Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/4/2011
12:25 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon. I want to begin with a couple of scheduling announcements or updates.
First, regarding some energy events this week for the President, the President this week will make two trips as he continues speaking directly with Americans about his long-term plan to protect consumers against rising oil prices and decrease oil imports as well as key components of his broader energy plan.
On Wednesday, as you know, the President will travel to Philadelphia -- rather, to the Philadelphia area -- to hold a town hall discussion with workers at Gamesa Technology Corporation’s wind energy turbine manufacturing facility in Fairless Hills. This facility employs approximately 300 workers and was built at a former U.S. Steel industrial site.
On Friday, the President will travel to Indianapolis, where he will tour the facilities of Allison Transmission before speaking to workers there.
Allison Transmission is a leader in hybrid technology and the world’s largest manufacturer of fully automatic transmissions for medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, tactical military vehicles, and hybrid propulsion systems.
In June 2010, Allison announced the dedication of a new hybrid facility, which, once fully operational, will have the capacity to produce 20,000 commercial-duty hybrid propulsion systems each year.
Separately, I would also like to inform you that earlier today, invitations were extended to Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid, Chairman Dan Inouye, and Chairman Hal Rogers to a meeting tomorrow at the White House with the President to discuss ongoing negotiations on a funding bill to bring us through the end of this fiscal year.
The President has made clear that we all understand the need to cut spending, and significant progress has been made in agreeing that we can all work off the same number -- $73 billion in spending cuts in this year alone.
With the process running short on time, the President will urge leaders to reach final agreement and avoid a government shutdown that would be harmful to our economic recovery.
Those are my announcements. I will take your questions. Julie.
Q Quickly, on the meeting tomorrow, is the President still confident that Congress can reach an agreement on the budget by Friday and avoid the shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: He remains confident that if we, together, roll up our sleeves and get to work very quickly, that we can find a compromise that reduces spending by $73 billion; protects the investments that are so key to our future economic growth, allowing us to innovate -- out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world -- yes, he believes that can get done. But time is of the essence, and that is why he is calling this meeting for tomorrow and it is why he made some calls, as you know, over the weekend to Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid.
Q And then shortly before we came out here, we and other news organizations were reporting that the administration is going to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, not in New York or other civilian courts. Now that the President is officially running for reelection, how does he explain this reversal to his supporters, many of whom voted for him in part because of his commitment to closing Guantanamo, to ending the military tribunals?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, Julie, the President’s commitment here is that those who are suspected and accused of participating in those heinous attacks be brought to justice; that is his primary concern. For details on this decision I think you are going to hear from the Attorney General at 2:00 p.m. today, who will have a lot more to say about this. So I direct you to that press conference.
Q But in terms of what the President will say to his supporters who will look at this and say that he is going back on a promise he made during his 2008 campaign, what’s his message going to be?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to the Attorney General’s statement later today. But I think that the President’s primary concern here is that the perpetrators, the accused perpetrators of that terrible attack on the American people be brought to justice as swiftly as possible and as fairly as possible.
Q And if I could ask one more on reelection -- as the President said on Friday when the jobs numbers came out, there is progress on the economy, but it’s not progress fast enough for him. If the administration is even saying that, how can you expect the American people to reward him with reelection if that progress hasn’t come fast enough?
MR. CARNEY: Julie, the President is not focused on elections. He’s focused on doing the work that he was elected to do.
Q But he announced today his reelection campaign.
MR. CARNEY: Well, but he’s focused on the work that people elected him to do. And he has a job and he’s working full-time, waking up every morning with that foremost in his mind -- what can we do today, this administration working with Congress, working with partners in the private sector, to increase growth, increase job creation, make America competitive so it can win the future in the 21st century. That is his job. There is plenty of time well down the road for politics, but he is focused on that. And when he says that he’s not satisfied, of course he’s not. There is more work to be done. Progress is being made.
We are now -- the economy is showing real signs of strength with the numbers you talked about -- the significant private sector job creation we saw on Friday; the revisal upwards of numbers from the previous two months; the fact that we’ve had 13 straight months of private sector job creation. We started off in a very deep hole. There is more work to be done and that’s what the President is focused on.
Q Just a couple of questions. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- it seemed implicit that you are confirming that Attorney General Holder will, in fact --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to get ahead of what he’s saying. I’m simply saying that the principles that -- what the Attorney General will say. But the principle that the President approaches this with is the need for justice.
Q Okay. Will Attorney General Holder be announcing --
MR. CARNEY: Again --
Q -- that the trial will be held at Guantanamo rather than in a civilian court?
MR. CARNEY: I will urge you to wait for the Attorney General’s statement.
Q Okay. On the budget negotiations, you did say you’re somewhat confident of a deal being reached if all efforts are brought to bear. And the President is going an extra mile by bringing the lawmakers in-house to talk. But are you actually seeing a substantial narrowing of the differences already before the President sits down with these folks? And can you talk a little bit about the economic consequences of a government shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: There was work over the weekend, including the phone calls that the President made. But others have been working -- rolling up their sleeves and working, including representatives of the White House, the administration, people on the Hill. The President made those phone calls and is calling this meeting precisely because he is concerned that we need to reach a final agreement. Time is of the essence.
And in terms of -- I don’t want to speculate about the consequences of not getting this work done, except to say that nobody believes that it is good for the economy, good for the kind of recovery that we’ve seen taking root, to run a government in a way where it stops, starts, funding is dependent every two weeks on these kind of negotiations. We need to get this work done.
Q And there’s been quite a bit of talk about the U.S. government having shifted stance on -- in its -- on Yemen’s President Saleh, and that it’s now quietly decided that he must leave office because he will not -- could not be trusted to bring about necessary reforms. Is that in fact the case?
MR. CARNEY: We are obviously concerned about and are monitoring the situation in Yemen. We’ve seen reports of further violence, and that is a concern, and we’ve been very clear about our views on the need that all sides refrain from violence, that there be an open process that addresses the legitimate needs and aspirations of the Yemeni people.
We support a dialogue, a political dialogue, and President Saleh has publicly indicated his willingness to engage in a peaceful transition of power, and we believe the timing and form of that transition should be accomplished through dialogue and negotiation. So we urge that process to continue.
Q The White House has repeatedly said that President Saleh is a key ally when it comes to combating terrorism, especially in the fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. If the administration is now supporting a transition process in Yemen, how confident is the White House, how concerned is the White House, that whatever comes next will not be as helpful to the United States in fighting terrorism?
MR. CARNEY: Jake, our position with regards to working with the government of Yemen on counterterrorism efforts is that it is not and has not been focused on one person, nor should it be.
We are obviously concerned that in this period of political unrest that al Qaeda and other groups will attempt to take advantage of that power vacuum, and that’s one of the reasons why we urge political dialogue to take place and a timetable for this transition that President Saleh has talked about to be begun.
And -- but we believe that we can and will work with the government of Yemen on these very important matters. And like I said, they’re not focused on one individual.
Q Secretary of Defense Gates told me a week ago yesterday that the concept of a post-Saleh Yemen is of great concern to the United States.
MR. CARNEY: Yemen is of great concern to the United States. AQAP [sic] is of great concern to the United States, which is why we put so much work in our counterterrorism efforts with the government of Yemen and with those who can be partners with us around the region and the world in combating the terrorist activities of AQAP [sic].
Q And lastly, on the President’s promise to shut down Gitmo and to try as many terrorists as can be tried -- accused terrorists as can be tried in a civilian court -- has there been any conclusion as to why that promise was not been able to be carried out? Is it that he over-promised? Did he not take into consideration -- did he not consult enough with Congress? Why is this, as the President announces his reelection kickoff, why is this a promise that he has not been able to fulfill?
MR. CARNEY: Jake, you know the history very well about this process and congressional reaction to some of the goals that were set out.
What I will ask you to do is listen to what the Attorney General has to say about this particular decision, 2:00 p.m. today, and then just tell you that the President remains focused on everything he can do every day to get the economy growing, jobs created, the priorities that the American people set for him and that he takes very seriously.
Q I don’t need to tell you because you covered it, 2008, this was a big issue that he brought up on the campaign trail. And it’s obviously a failure.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that, again, what has transpired over the last several years with regards to these issues is well known to everyone. Congressional opposition to some of these decisions created obstacles that made it very hard -- that became very hard to overcome. And the President is very focused on the need for justice for the -- to be brought with regards to those who are accused of participating and planning those attacks.
Q On the shutdown, is the White House bracing for, preparing for a government shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: Dan, as you know, there are procedures that have been in place since the 1980s for this kind of situation. There’s nothing unusual that this government, this administration is doing with regards to the situation we are in now.
So I would not say bracing for, because we at the White House and the President believes that there is room, ample room for compromise, for finding common ground, for getting this done; believe very strongly that that’s what the American people want us to do. And we take seriously the expressed sentiments of congressional leaders of both parties, that they believe that a government shutdown would not be good for the economy, for job creation, for the American people.
So with all that at work here, and the fact that so much progress has been made toward an agreement that everyone can live with, we believe that we should get this done, and get it done because there are bigger challenges that we need to work on together.
Q So you’re not expecting a shutdown, then?
MR. CARNEY: No. We believe that there is still ample room for common ground to be found if people roll up their sleeves and get to work and get this done.
Q Is the President troubled at all that he’s rolling out what’s expected to be a billion-dollar campaign at a time when many Americans are still struggling to stay in their homes, to get jobs?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President was elected, as you know, to address those very concerns. He was elected in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the terrible job losses, the shrinking of the economy, the potential collapse of the financial sector. All of these things were challenges that he confronted when he was elected and when he took office and which he is addressing each and every day. That is his job. That is what he’s focused on. The formal process of filing papers and announcing a campaign is separate from the work he is doing here every day for the American people.
Q I know you’re kicking a lot of the questions to the 2:00 p.m. press conference with the Attorney General. But can you tell us what’s behind the timing, why this happened on the day when the President was rolling out his 2012 campaign?
MR. CARNEY: Well, this is a process and a decision that was undertaken by the Attorney General and the Justice Department, so I would most certainly refer you to them on the timing.
Q Can I follow on that? Did the President have any involvement at all? Has he had any conversations with Attorney General Holder about this recently?
MR. CARNEY: I believe there are conversations about heads-up and that sort of thing, but nothing substantive.
Q How about the White House Counsel’s Office? How --
MR. CARNEY: Why don’t I refer you to the Justice Department? I don’t want to get out beyond what I know. So why don’t we wait for the Justice Department to speak on that.
Q Okay. On the shutdown, potential shutdown, there are still surveys that have shown that there are still a lot of people out there who are concerned that things like -- about things like Social Security checks and whether -- going to the doctor under Medicare or Medicaid. Could you just reassure people what will happen with regard to those kinds of government programs if there is a shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to get into details about -- or speculate about what might happen in a scenario that we firmly believe can and are optimistic will be avoided, because of the --
Q But you can’t guarantee it won’t happen.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can’t guarantee a lot of things.
Q Well, why not guarantee these people what will happen if it does happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the specifics on different programs and how they’re affected in a circumstance that could entail should an agreement not be reached I think have to be spelled out by the agencies involved. So what we have said, what I have said, is that a shutdown is not something we want. Leaders of Congress have said it’s not something they want. We believe that it’s bad for a number of reasons, but most importantly because it would have a negative impact; it would send the wrong signal about the economy and would have a negative impact on potential job growth in the future. So that by itself is a reason to work hard to prevent it from happening.
Q So you can’t even tell people, don’t worry, your Social Security checks will still go out?
MR. CARNEY: Chip, you know there are places to go for details about how that mechanism works. And I wouldn’t want to give incomplete information about how the various processes work when there is a funding -- stoppage of funding on government programs. So I don’t want to go out and say that this will keep happening but this won’t, because I don’t have all the details.
Q On the President’s reelection bid, he has spoken often about the impact of money on the elections process, and he’s about to launch what may well be the most expensive reelection bid in history. Does the President -- does that give him any pause at all?
MR. CARNEY: Wendell, I will ask you to take those questions for now to the DNC and then shortly, I believe, to what will be a campaign headquarters in Chicago. But I don’t have any comment on that from here.
Q Well, let’s look at prospects for a political support group to be launched by the President’s former deputy press secretary. He has -- Mr. Obama has sharply criticized 501(c)s. Will he give this group his blessing?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have anything for you. First of all, I don’t know any specifics about what you’re talking about. But I will urge you to take those questions to the DNC, and once it is stood up to the campaign.
Q Is this going to be basically your response to all the campaign-related questions?
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m not making -- drawing lines in the sand. I’m just saying at this point the answers to those questions can be found there, and also that the President is focused on this work for the American people that he was elected to do, and that’s what he does every day and that’s what his staff here is doing. And he set up this structure, or is setting up this structure, or it’s being set up for him in Chicago, precisely or in part to allow him to focus on the work he needs to do from the White House for the American people. And there’s a lot on his plate. And what’s on his plate is also on our plate, so we are focused on that as well.
Q If that’s the case, then why announce today, fully a month or so earlier than his predecessor announced his reelection?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to those who make the decisions about campaign announcements. I didn’t --
Q But he made this decision.
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t -- but I didn’t make the decision -- I guess what I’ll say is, timing of setting up filing papers, you can go to the people who are going to work on the campaign and find out what went into that process. I know that the President today, over the weekend, this week and going forward, will be focused on the work of his presidency and the work that the American people expect him to do, precisely because there are so many challenges facing us and that need to be addressed.
Q Just to pick up on what Chip was asking, did the Attorney General consult with the President about this decision on KSM or simply --
MR. CARNEY: You know what, I have to take that question. I don’t have any specifics on it for you. And I think the starting point today will be a statement by the Attorney General at 2:00 p.m. But I’ll take that question.
Q You mean you don’t know?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know.
Q Okay. Does the President agree with the Attorney General’s decision?
MR. CARNEY: The answer is yes, but I -- for details on that, I think maybe wait for after the Attorney General makes his statement, and then you can come back to us. Tomorrow I’ll be taking your questions, I’m sure on this and other issues. But I don’t want to get out ahead of the Attorney General.
Q Does the President still believe that a military commission is an inferior method of trying these terrorism suspects?
MR. CARNEY: Again, that’s another way of trying to get me to address the statement and the announcement that the Attorney General is going to make --
Q Just wondering if his opinion has changed? I mean, I could have asked it yesterday.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, you could have, and I would just point you to some of the answers I gave earlier about the President’s concern here, the primary concern here that justice be served and that this process move forward, given the obstacles that are out there that we all know about.
Q And then last thing, on the campaign video, what should anyone -- what conclusion should someone draw that there’s only I think one shot of President Obama in that whole two-minute video?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn’t draw any conclusions on -- in the first week of April 2011 about a political campaign that, in terms of his engagement, is way down the road. And the structures that are built to support that need to be built because of the way these things unfold. But his focus is on the job that he was elected to do, and there’s a great deal on his plate, and that’s what he’s focused on now.
Q Thanks. Tomorrow Paul Ryan will be unveiling the House Republican budget. I’m wondering what your reaction is to his plans for Medicare, which is to turn it from a basically government-run program into one where individuals would get support to pay premiums to private companies?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t seen his proposal. I don’t think any of us have yet because it hasn’t arrived. And obviously I, but most importantly others, will examine it with interest.
The President has said since his State of the Union address that he looks forward to engaging in a conversation, an adult conversation, about the challenges that face us and our fiscal future: entitlement reform, defense spending, tax reform -- the issues that really affect our long-term deficit and debt.
I also think that it’s important to note that the President himself has already put forward a 2012 budget that includes health care savings, and prior to that he passed historic legislation that addressed the need for health care savings in a substantial way. He recognizes and has demonstrated it with action that this is an area that is of concern when it comes to our long-term fiscal health, and he’s shown his seriousness about it. But again, I don’t want to prejudge Mr. Ryan’s proposal, except to say that the President looks forward to engaging in a serious conversation where people calmly address the issues at hand and try to come together in a way that can produce a result that the American people can broadly support -- because nothing like this gets done if it’s not done in a bipartisan way.
Q But the idea -- the fundamental -- forget about the details of his particular plan, but the fundamental concept behind what he wants to do with Medicare has been around for a very long time, and in general has been highly criticized by the bulk of the Democratic Party. And when I asked you about it, you basically said, well, we also have savings we want to talk about. Are you suggesting that this may be something you can work with?
MR. CARNEY: What I’m saying is that as in the short-term budget discussions, the President shares the goal here of cutting spending, for example, on the fiscal year 2011. And he shares the goal of dealing with the issues that drive our debt and affect our fiscal health. How you get there is very important. He has shown his seriousness about addressing these issues in the past, and he will continue to show his seriousness about addressing them in the future. How you get there is important.
And I don’t want to negotiate particulars, except to say that the only way this process works is that there is something that all sides can agree on in substantial numbers. There is -- no single party’s proposition for entitlement reform and long-term fiscal health is ever going to become law, because it needs the support of both parties and the President to get done. The issue is too big to have it otherwise.
Q But I’m not even clear from that answer whether you support or oppose that general idea.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t want to negotiate the specifics of a proposal that we --
Q The specifics? This is very much a general, big picture. This is a fundamental change to Medicare.
MR. CARNEY: I think the President’s position on Medicare is -- can be seen in his Affordable Care Act; can be seen in the way he’s addressed it in his 2012 budget proposal. But I don’t want to say -- beyond saying that ideas that have very limited support in Congress will not likely become law. We need to find solutions that can garner bipartisan support, and we need to find a process that we saw in December and that we hopefully will see this week, where both sides come together calmly, willing to jettison their maximalist positions because they know they won’t get everything they want, but protecting their principles in the name of a deal that the American people want.
Q Last thing. How would you respond to people in the Democratic Party who will probably be disappointed with that response that you don’t seem to be attacking this idea?
MR. CARNEY: I would say that this is a process that hasn’t even begun yet, and that it’s a -- it is one where precisely -- it is one that I certainly don’t want to prejudge an outcome of today, and I think that the kind of -- as I’ve said before and others have said before -- that if you stake out positions in your corners and that’s your beginning and end position, you’ll never get to the center. And the President believes in results -- in foreign policy and in domestic policy. He believes in -- he sets his principles and he believes in getting things done for the American people, based on his principles, but also based on the idea that there should be common ground on these issues that are so important.
Q Jay, can you further characterize this meeting tomorrow? Is this a negotiating session? Is it a knock-heads meeting? What does the President hope this thing is going to accomplish?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I said at the top is what I think the President wants to convey by issuing the invitation and having the meeting, which is that it’s a good time, a very good time for these senior leaders to come together and assess where we are and make some decisions about whether or not we can reach a final agreement. And so he looks forward to that meeting because he believes we can do it and we are close.
Q Do you see it getting into details, getting into --
MR. CARNEY: Well, the details --
Q -- line numbers?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t want to prejudge on the very smart people who will be in the room and maybe some with a few calculators. But my guess is that this is more of a leadership discussion and not a line-item discussion.
Q Thank you. Does the President believe that trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at a military tribunal is the best way to bring him to justice as swiftly and as fairly as possible?
MR. CARNEY: I’m going to -- since this announcement that you’re referring to may or may not be made this afternoon, I don’t want to start picking it apart or analyzing it. I’d like the Attorney General to be able to address that first.
Q If let’s say there isn’t an announcement this afternoon, would the President believe that trying him --
MR. CARNEY: If there weren’t -- if there is no such announcement this afternoon then I will say what I would have said last week --
Q -- trying him in that way is the best way to bring him --
MR. CARNEY: -- which is that my understanding is that the analysis of that particular process is underway and hopefully there will be a result and decision soon.
Q And that brings him to justice as swiftly and fairly as possible?
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q You know, the President has set up a negotiating team to go to Capitol Hill and deal with the budget issues. Does the fact that now he has to invite leaders to the White House and personally get involved mean that that plan didn’t work?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no. I would say that the President has been personally involved prior to this moment, as evidence by phone calls he’s made. The Vice President has obviously been directly engaged. The budget director, the President’s congressional liaison, Rob Nabors, others have been engaged. And this is a step along the way. But --
Q So it was not the plan that he would have to push it -- push the ball over the finish line?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you don’t know how this will play out. You can’t game it day by day or hour by hour. But he looks forward to having this meeting, he think it’s important, and he thinks we need to reach an agreement, because an agreement is within reach, and get it done and move on to bigger issues.
Q Could I also just ask for a preview of the Shimon Peres lunch tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President looks forward to the lunch. Obviously there are a lot of issues to discuss about developments in the region, about America’s commitment to Israel’s security, and about the need for progress on the peace process.
Q Any specific ideas about the way the peace process fits into what’s unfolding in other parts of the Middle East right now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he may have them, but I’ll let him discuss with President Peres what they are.
Q Jay, can I ask about Libya? The Italians have now recognized the rebels as the de facto government; they’ve joined the French and the Qataris. What do they know that we don’t know, or what do we know that they don’t know that we’re not recognizing yet?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have taken a lot of steps to engage in dialogue with opposition leaders. We are part of the contact group, which is very much engaged in the process of assessing the opposition and helping plan for or assisting and advising the opposition and planning for a post-Qaddafi Libya. But we continue to take measures that we believe are in America’s national interest, national security interest, in terms of our due diligence and assessing the opposition and assessing the kind of assistance we can provide to the opposition.
Q Are they just not organized enough yet or are there elements that scare us about the opposition?
MR. CARNEY: I would just say that we are only days into this in terms of the -- well, weeks since the very beginning of any unrest in Libya at all; only a few weeks since the kind of -- since the kinetic engagement of NATO and only a little bit longer than that since the U.S. took action unilaterally and multilaterally on a slew of sanctions and that sort of thing.
So going back to a refrain I think you’ve heard from me and others, that this process has moved very quickly, it’s very fluid and dynamic, and what it certainly has not been is slow and overly deliberate.
Q Jay, to follow on Ari’s question, what is the President’s position on giving the state of Palestine a seat on the U.N. General Assembly?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to engage in Middle East peace process negotiations here. Obviously there are a lot of issues on the table. We encourage the -- both sides to reengage in negotiations that are vital to a peace process that needs revitalization. But the elements of that I’m not going to get into from here.
Q But does the United States now have a position? Does the President have a position on that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to get into specifics. If you want to address that to the State Department, you’re welcome to, but from here I’m not going to do that. As you know, the Israeli President is coming tomorrow.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Peter.
Q Thank you. On the same week that the President launches his reelection campaign --
MR. CARNEY: It’s a recurring theme here, the positive phrases that get to other questions, but yes.
Q He’ll visit two swing states, states that were important to his 2008 election win and will be important to him in 2012. What assurances can you provide to the American people that his official taxpayer-funded itinerary will not be driven by reelection considerations?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you very clearly that the President is focused on the work that he needs to do for the American people that he was elected to do, and that all the safeguards that should be taken will be taken with regard to that. There are a lot of -- fortunately, a lot of states that were very important to the President’s election in 2008.
Q Since we’re on the subject of the reelection -- (laughter) -- in the video that the DNC released this morning, one of the people in the video mentioned things that need to be done at some point in the future, things that are left undone. I’m wondering what the President thinks those things are, and when does he expect them to get done?
MR. CARNEY: Well, without addressing, again, specifically that video, I would say that he has been in office for a little over two years and faced a collection of challenges that compare in their size and complexity with any collection ever faced by any President coming into office in this history of this country.
So there are -- and he has taken enormous steps towards overcoming a lot of those challenges, principally the economic ones, but also rebalancing our foreign policy and reestablishing American leadership around the world and drawing down our troops in Iraq -- 100,000 American troops have been drawn down from Iraq -- and getting a policy towards Afghanistan that can achieve our goals there.
So to -- but to suggest that all the challenges that we faced when President Obama was sworn into office have been successfully negotiated is simply, obviously, not the case. And so there’s much work to be done, and not least of which -- in fact, most important of which -- is the continued need for economic growth and job creation and investment in those kinds of -- those areas of our country that will help us compete in the 21st century and win the future. That’s his principal, top-line focus.
Q He’s mentioned immigration specifically in some other public events in the context of supporters. Is he going to be presenting these issues, these things left undone, as second-term issues, reasons why he needs to be reelected?
MR. CARNEY: I certainly don’t think you could ever accuse this President of taking on big challenges in a slow way and spacing them out. So I think I will cite the President that he remains committed to immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform. It’s the kind of thing, like some of the other challenges I was talking about earlier, that absolutely requires bipartisan consensus to get done. There is a history of bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform, and you will hear the President discuss that sooner rather than later and certainly well before a second term.
Q The Secretary of State came out talking about the Ivory Coast, saying things like the incumbent President who lost the election needs to leave and the U.N. peacekeepers need to essentially do their job. What more can the administration do, particularly as there is concern about the fact that there’s a contradiction of what’s happening in Libya with human rights violations and humanitarian efforts, and the same thing happening in the Ivory Coast? What more is this administration going to do beyond those words?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to the fact that the administration has taken a lot of measures, many measures, with regard to Côte d’Ivoire and has led the international community in building that consensus against former President Gbagbo and urging him to step down and step down now, to cease the violence. We are also -- we call on him to make the choice to act in the best interests of his people, of his country, to avoid -- to cease the violence that has been perpetrated against the people of Côte d’Ivoire.
The international community is working collectively, with United States leadership, to address this. And there is already on the ground, as you cite, a United Nations operation in the country, and it has been actively taking steps to protect civilians and to prevent looting at this volatile time. So we support that.
Q Will we hear from the President, as you talk about the severity and how the United States has been engaged, to make this, to show this is a priority of the President? Will we hear from the President on this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think -- the President filmed a video not long ago addressed to the people of the country. He has been very engaged in this very important issue, and has made unequivocally clear that the recognized elected President of that country needs to assume power and that former President Gbagbo needs to give up power.
Q And back on Dan’s question really quickly, what are the sensitivities of this White House as it relates to this hoped-for billion-dollar war chest when you have -- and, yes, we’re back on reelection issues -- when you have many grassroots persons and this video that came out for grassroots America, you have many grassroots persons in this first presidential bid that gave small amounts of money to this campaign and a lot of these grassroots people are the ones who are being pinched now by this recession we’re climbing out of now?
MR. CARNEY: One thing the President is fully aware of, as I’ve mentioned several times already, is that we are not out of the hole that this recession dug. We are continuing to grow and build out of it. Unemployment remains too high. The President said recently and he says frequently that he will not be satisfied until every America who is looking for work has a good job. And he’s keenly aware that there are Americans suffering still from the impact of this terrible recession, and that is the focus of his work today. It’s not related to a political campaign; it’s related to the job that he was elected to do.
Q But getting back to what you said, do you think that’s a lofty number -- as you just said, with suffering -- I mean, billion-dollar with a “B” versus you saying people are suffering. I mean, do you think that’s --
MR. CARNEY: The questions about the nature of a campaign and its elements I’d refer to the DNC, and then once it’s stood up to the campaign headquarters in Chicago, for now.
Q Thanks, Jay. Does the President have any plans or possible plans to visit Guantanamo anytime soon? (Laughter.)
Q Spring break.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any announcements beyond the ones I made on his schedule.
Q With the family, perhaps? (Laughter.)
Q Jay, three questions. One of the President’s goals has been the passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which barred job discrimination against gay and transgender Americans. That’s going to be a challenge with Republicans in control of the House. One idea that’s being proposed as an interim alternative is an executive order that would bar the federal government from doing businesses with companies that don’t have their own workplace protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Would the President be open to issuing this executive order?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to speculate about what action he may or may not take. His position is known. And again, he does not shy away from obstacles when he approaches an issue that’s important to him. But I don’t have a -- I’m not going to speculate about what measure he might take.
Q In a similar vein, as you move forward with “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, is the President open to issuing an executive order to ensure that LGBT service members have legal recourse if they feel that they’ve experienced discrimination in the U.S. military?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have -- I don’t want to say what he may or may not be open to. What I do know is that repeal is going along on schedule and successfully, and he is very closely monitoring that. And -- but more than that I do not have.
Q But do you see any impediment -- legal, political, or otherwise -- to prevent the President from issuing either of these executive orders?
MR. CARNEY: Those kinds of questions about legal impediments are best addressed to lawyers, and I am not one.
Q Jay, does the President believe that Terry Jones is responsible for the killings that have occurred in Afghanistan? And are any -- any thought of taking action against him?
MR. CARNEY: Two points. One, we absolutely condemn the burning of a holy text. We think it’s un-American and inappropriate -- one. Two, nothing justifies -- absolutely nothing justifies the kind of violence and fatal violence that we saw that took the lives of workers at the United Nations in Mazar-i-Sharif -- absolutely nothing.
Q Any thought of taking action against him or is there going to be more communications with him to tell him to stop doing that?
MR. CARNEY: Our interest is not in elevating somebody whose behavior is inappropriate and un-American, or does not represent what we believe are America’s values. Our focus, however, is also on condemning the heinous acts that took the lives of U.N. workers in Afghanistan.
Q One last question on that. It is inappropriate and un-American and so forth. But do Americans -- does the President believe that Americans have the right to burn the Koran if -- as horrible as it is -- if they want to do that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just point you to the condemnations of that act by General Petraeus, by the President who issued a statement, and by other administration officials. But again, I think it is important to note that nothing justifies the reaction -- absolutely nothing.
Q Thanks. There are reports out there that the administration is talking to BP about resuming deep-sea drilling. Can you talk about that? Is the -- how close are we to resuming deep-sea drilling back in the Gulf?
MR. CARNEY: I would like to -- I’m glad you asked that question, because I would like to point you to something that Secretary Salazar said this morning, quote: “There is absolutely no such agreement, nor would there be such an agreement. There is nothing here with BP that is different from what we will be doing with all the other companies that operate in the Gulf of Mexico.”
The simple fact is that everyone who wants to do business in drilling, in either shallow or deep water, needs to meet the stringent requirements that have been in place since the spill last year, and that includes every country. And permits are issued based on the capacity of a company to meet the requirements that those new standards have set. And again, the DOI doesn’t make deals; it issues permits based on the merits of the application that would be true of any company.
Q So there have been no special conversations or discussions with BP?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. Again, I would refer you to the Department of Interior and to Secretary Salazar. But I think he’s pretty darn clear.
Q Thanks, Jay.
Q Come on.
MR. CARNEY: Let me get one more.
Q Why is the President --
Q Come on.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, two more.
Q Come on, (inaudible) so people have other questions -- making people go faster --
MR. CARNEY: Lynn, I can’t imagine what you’re going to ask about.
Q No, you can’t. (Laughter.)
Q Let’s hear that one.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, sir.
Q Why has the President ordered U.S. forces into their current support role in the Libyan region when U.S. military objectives under Resolution 1973 are still so far from having been achieved?
MR. CARNEY: Well the U.S.’s military objectives are not the U.S.’s sole military objectives. They are the objectives laid out by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which is guiding the mission that NATO now has commanding control over and is the lead authority in, and which the United States military is still participating in, in an advise and support role -- advisory and support role, which is -- continues to be important -- intelligence gathering, jamming, refueling, and the like.
I will tell you -- because there were reports of it -- that the kinetic participation of the military was extended several days until midnight tonight because of weather that affected the ability of the United States’ assets to hit the targets that had been laid out for it to hit, which we have the unique capabilities of hitting, to use colloquial language. But as of midnight tonight, they will no longer be in that role, but our partnership in the coalition continues. And NATO will continue to fly sorties and take action as the mission continues.
Q Do those capabilities include unique ground attack capabilities --
MR. CARNEY: Again, there was a list -- there was -- as I understand it -- the details are probably better spoken to by NATO or the Department of Defense -- but the delay was driven by a set of targets that we could deal with and that the added time was allowed for the weather to clear and for them to be dealt with, and that we are now in the process as of midnight tonight of pulling back those assets and taking on that role that we have discussed of participating in the coalition but not leading it.
Q Thank you very much. I have two questions. Today, in a Chicago courtroom, defense lawyers for Governor Blagojevich filed a motion requesting Obama’s transition interview that he made in 2008 with the FBI be given to them. Could you find out if you have any objection to the release of these FBI interviews for Blagojevich’s upcoming retrial?
My second question is -- unrelated matter -- the White House had been asked by the two Illinois senators to send a letter that Guantanamo detainees would not -- not be sent to the prison in Illinois that the federal government is trying to purchase. This would probably take away the last roadblock to being able to (inaudible) the purchase of this prison with approval of Republicans in Congress. Can you give me a status report on whether you think this letter is ever going to come, if by chance you know about it?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’ll have to take the question in both cases. I don’t have answers for either.
Q Do you think there would be a chance of getting an answer today on either of these?
MR. CARNEY: Why don’t you check with my office?
Q Thank you very much.
MR. CARNEY: One more. Yes, sir.
Q On rebalancing foreign policy you just mentioned. What’s the goal that the President is seeking on his second term to -- in terms of rebalance?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, it’s not related to -- did you say a second term? It’s not related to that. It’s -- I think Tom Donilon very eloquently spelled out in a speech or an interview, I can’t even remember, about the approach that the President took when he took office to rebalance our priorities in foreign policy and to take into account the emergence of countries like China and India and Brazil in our -- the way we look strategically at the world, and not to focus solely on one or two regions. More broadly, I think also that he came in determined to reestablish America’s leadership -- America’s standing in the world -- and feels that great progress has been made in that regard as well.
Thank you very much.
1:14 P.M. EDT
January 31, 2015
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