Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/11/2011
12:20 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to see if I see anyone out there who came with us to Texas yesterday. It was a long -- were you there?
Q On the charter --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, on the charter. So if you're like me, you're dragging a little bit. So I have no opening announcements or statements. I'll go right to questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple topics. Can you talk a bit about the agenda today of the President’s meeting with Senate Democrats? Obviously a different type of meeting, having all the Senate caucus down here, Democratic caucus. What does he specifically want to accomplish?
MR. CARNEY: He very much wants to discuss the ways that we need to approach the problem of long-term deficit reduction. As you know, he put forward his plan for that a number of weeks ago and looks forward to meeting first with Senate Democrats and then with Senate Republicans, later with House Republicans and House Democrats, to discuss this issue because it’s very much high on his agenda. And he, as you know because of the talks he initiated, led by the Vice President, wants to move forward and get some -- find some common ground with Republicans on long-term deficit reduction.
Q So are these -- I mean, do you envision that these will be, in a sense, sort of negotiation sessions, what can we get through?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn't expect the full caucus in any of these situations to be negotiating sessions, but trading of ideas, listening to approaches and, broadly speaking, strategizing for how -- in all of these sessions, with Republicans and Democrats -- for how we get from here to there, where we can find common ground; since we all agree on what the problem is, which is always very important, and that is the need to bring down our deficits and deal with our long-term debt, and we all agree generally on the target, which is reducing our deficits by $4 trillion over 10 to 12 years, how do we find those elements that we can agree on to move this ball down the field.
And as you know, he’s committed to doing this. That's why he appointed his fiscal commission last year, the Bowles-Simpson commission. That's why he has put deficit reduction in his budget proposals as well as long-term plan, and why he asked the Vice President to lead these serious negotiations.
Q Okay. One other topic. On the draft executive order that would require contractors to disclose contributions -- I know you said that is a draft and going through the process, but I just wanted to check in. Is this something that the White House still is planning to do, still stands behind?
MR. CARNEY: Again, it’s a draft process. I don’t have anything new to say about it or a timetable for when it might emerge. I will make the point, as I have in the past, that drafts are drafts. As you know, when you write a draft of your story, the story, the language in the story can change, and the language in a draft executive order can change as it moves through the process. So I don’t have --
Q -- principle to that?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think the principle of disclosure is one the President stands strongly behind. And again, speaking broadly and not specifically about this executive order, he thinks it’s very important that, especially in this day and age after the Supreme Court decision about campaign donations, that the American people should know who is funding our political campaigns. And the best way to do that is through full disclosure.
And there was a time back when I was covering Congress that that was the mantra of a lot of folks, conservatives in particular, and Republicans, that disclosure was the answer rather than any kind of campaign finance reform restrictions like McCain-Feingold. But the disclosure was what we should be pursuing. Well, that’s what this President has been pursuing and hopes that Congress will pass a full disclosure law.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Senator John Kerry says he’ll be going to Pakistan in coming days to try to get relations back on the right track. Will he be carrying any message from President Obama in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s killing?
MR. CARNEY: Nothing specifically. Obviously we work very closely with Senator Kerry, but as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he’s also independent of us. And we encourage the trip he’s making. We think it’s important and part of the overall efforts by the United States government to continue our collaborative relationship with Pakistan and the cooperation that we’ve seen in the past; that while we don’t always see eye-to-eye on the issues, that cooperation has led to some very important successes in our war against al Qaeda.
And we are working at the administration level to continue our consultations with Pakistani leaders, to continue that kind of cooperation, and are glad to see Senator Kerry make that trip as well.
Q And former Pakistani President Musharraf is saying that rogue members of the military may have helped bin Laden hide for years near Islamabad. Does the administration harbor any similar suspicions that they may be the culprits in this?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that report, but I would just point you to the statements we’ve made in the past, that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon made, which is that at the moment we see no indications of high-level government support or being part of the network of support that helped Osama bin Laden hide in Abbottabad. But we obviously are investigating and have quite a bit of material that was collected from the compound to help guide us in that investigation. The Pakistani government is also investigating this issue. But I don’t have a response to General Musharraf’s comments.
Q At the end of the “60 Minutes” interview, President Obama seemed to suggest that the successful mission against bin Laden could have ramifications for the war going forward. Specifically, he seemed to suggest that we could have a smaller footprint because of the effectiveness of these smaller, highly-trained teams. And he also said that he thought that this might quicken the pace of reconciliation. How -- was he just speaking off the top of his head in terms of things that might be? Or is there a direct correlation between the strategy we’re going to see put forward in June-July and the successful mission?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me take this in two parts here. The comments that he and others have made about the potential for reconciliation I think follow from the hope that the fact that the head of al Qaeda has been eliminated, that that might encourage some Taliban members to view their situation differently in terms of the reconciliation efforts led by President Karzai. And that’s obviously informed speculation. But it is not -- we’re not -- that it could happen, that this advance in the fight against al Qaeda could have that kind of impact in Afghanistan. It would certainly be welcome if it did.
The other part, I don’t think -- I don’t remember the President suggesting that -- a relation particularly to our footprint, if you mean in Afghanistan. The President has a policy in Afghanistan. It very explicitly contains within it a transition point in July of 2011, where we begin to draw down U.S. forces. The pace of that drawdown, the scope of that drawdown, depends on conditions on the ground. And the President has yet to receive a recommendation for the first -- the number for the first movement of troops out in that drawdown. So I think --
Q He seemed to be suggesting that he, at the very least, or the country could feel more confident that we would still be able to engage in counterterrorism even with a smaller-sized force in Afghanistan. I don't have the exact quote with me, but it was a direct correlation. It was, this could tell us X.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't remember the quote you’re referring to, but I think the counterterrorism efforts, the kind of effectiveness that we saw in the raid that eliminated bin Laden has been replicated in a lot of actions by our remarkable special operators in other areas in Afghanistan in particular.
And I think that as part of the package that the President put together when he very deliberately devised his strategy for Afghanistan and the AfPak region was -- and remember there was a big debate about, is it COIN? Is it CT? And it was never one or the other; it was a very thought-out approach that involved both elements, both strategies.
Q Right, but some people argue -- proponents of COIN argue that CT is most effective when counterinsurgency is working the best, because then there is this comfort level for intelligence and information to be shared, and CT can only be most effective with COIN. And the President seemed to be suggesting a different point of view perhaps, and I’m wondering, first of all -- I guess --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't remember that he suggested that. I think that his approach has been to contain -- have elements of both within it, and that's the approach he’s taken in Afghanistan. He believes that that has shown progress in a very difficult situation in Afghanistan overall. But progress has been made and continues to be made, and the strategy we believe is making progress and working. And then one evidence of its success has been the effectiveness of our efforts to go after and either capture or kill leading terrorists.
Q But did any information for this mission come from COIN efforts?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to get into intelligence information and what might have been gathered, the, as we’ve talked about, the mosaic of intelligence that led to the successful mission against bin Laden.
Q Thanks. A few minutes ago you were talking about finding common ground on deficit reduction. Can you give us a sense in these early talks what the temperature is like? Does it appear that there could be some movement here, or are all sides digging in?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think the Vice President feels, as the leader of these discussions, that there has been a constructive, positive atmosphere. I note some reports out of yesterday’s meeting that suggest that because a deal hasn’t been reached, that they’re somehow stalling. And I just -- I think that these kinds of negotiations aren’t resolved immediately. These are tough issues.
The Vice President reported optimism that we can find common ground. The President believes very strongly that that’s possible. He believes that’s what the American people want us to do, to try to reach a compromise that addresses the priorities that all sides agree exist, which is the need to reduce our deficit, the need to continue job creation, continue the kind of economic growth we’ve been seeing as we’ve come out of this recession and, in the President’s view, to do that in a way that protects the investments that will allow us to compete in the 21st century.
Q I’m wondering if there’s any reaction to this letter written on behalf of bin Laden’s sons, where they talk about that the U.S. mission being “a criminal mission” and they take issue with the way that bin Laden’s body was disposed of.
MR. CARNEY: Dan, I’ve addressed the legal foundation for the actions the President ordered. We feel very strongly that the successful mission against a mass murderer of Americans and people around the world was entirely justified.
Q And finally, one question on this address that the President is expected to make I guess at some point to the Arab world. I know Secretary Clinton talked about this a number of weeks ago. Can you give us anything more on that, and in particular, a date?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say, Dan, is that the President will be giving an address in the relatively near future on the Middle East and U.S. policy in the Middle East. I think it’s a speech to a broader audience than just the Arab world. And I think that characterization was more narrow than is actually the case. So -- but I don’t have a date to announce for you at this point.
Q Could it be as early as next week -- without saying --
MR. CARNEY: I can just say that it will be relatively soon.
Q Okay. Boehner and McConnell have redrawn even more deeply their lines in the sand over no taxes in any kind of a long-term deal. Are they going to have to bend on that eventually?
MR. CARNEY: I think what I’ve said in the past and I think remains true is that we obviously have big differences but we also have areas where we agree. And it’s important that we address those areas where we agree and try to find common ground and see if there’s a way to take a balanced approach towards those issues where we disagree.
What we can’t do, because I think it would be a disservice to the American people and to the people who elected the President and the members of Congress who are involved in this -- these negotiations, and the members who will vote on whatever the product that emerges from these negotiations is -- we can’t simply say, well, this is too hard, our differences are too significant, we should just give up -- because that would be irresponsible.
So we believe that the talks have been productive and they can be productive. Will we resolve all of our differences? Probably not. But will we find enough common ground to achieve significant deficit reduction? The President believes we can.
Q That doesn’t really answer the question, though. The question is --
MR. CARNEY: Really? (Laughter.)
Q No, I’m afraid not. The question is, can you imagine the President -- is it possible the President would eventually agree to a deal that has no new revenues at all?
MR. CARNEY: The President strongly believes that we need to address our long-term deficit and debt problem in a comprehensive, balanced way, that doesn’t place all the burden on a limited number of segments of our society -- senior citizens in need of health care, disabled citizens -- and in which everyone shares the burden -- shares the prosperity and shares the burden. That’s his approach, and that’s the approach that he’s coming to the table with in the form of the Vice President who is leading these negotiations. I don’t want to prejudge the outcome.
Q I give up. Let’s move to another topic. On NATO, the stepped-up attacks in Libya, what is the President’s role in that? There are U.S. drones at the very least involved in that. Has the President been involved in this decision to step up attacks in Libya?
MR. CARNEY: We are a member of the coalition; we’re obviously a member of NATO --
Q But has the President been personally involved in that?
MR. CARNEY: It depends on what you mean by “personally involved.” He’s briefed regularly on it and in some detail, but he’s obviously not -- the United States is not taking the lead in this mission, so he’s not playing a lead role in that sense. We believe that NATO is fully capable and is proving itself fully capable of fulfilling the mandate of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, and believe that, as we've said in the past, if that mission is successfully accomplished in protecting civilians, enforcing an arms embargo, enforcing a no-fly zone, and the other measures that are being taken -- the non-military measures that have been taken by the United States and the international community continue to have an impact, that Muammar Qaddafi’s days are numbered.
Q Last question: Are you familiar with the FEMA -- the situation with FEMA, that they are now demanding that thousands of people, more than 5,000 people, who received FEMA awards due to floods in recent years are now being told that they have to give the money back because --
MR. CARNEY: I'm not aware of that, Chip.
Q Could you take that, any kind of comment --
MR. CARNEY: Sure, I -- we’ll look into it. I'm not aware of it.
Q And FEMA is admitting it was their mistake, but they’re demanding thousands of dollars back from people who don't have the money.
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t know about that. I'll take that question.
Q Could I ask you about Ben’s question on this draft order? Recognizing that it is a draft and not complete, the Republican concern is that federal contracts could be awarded on the basis of political donations -- or not awarded because of political donations. Are you suggesting that in the writing of this order, when it becomes complete, that that concern would be taken from --
MR. CARNEY: I'm not trying to analyze the content of an executive order that has not been submitted in a final version. I am saying, as I step back and look at this and try to explain the President’s view over all on disclosure, that he thinks the principle of disclosure is important, and he certainly thinks -- we think that it would be entirely appropriate for federal taxpayers to know where those who receive federal contracts, how some of that money might be spent in terms of political contributions -- as a general principle.
Again, this is a draft order, a draft executive order. I don't have a timetable for when -- for the process that it’s going through or anything specific about its language.
Q The OMB’s Director of Procurement is going up to the Hill tomorrow to testify. But it’s our understanding, my understanding, that he’s not going to be able to talk about this order because it’s not final. So how do you --
MR. CARNEY: We think it’s -- my understanding is -- I mean, why would he testify about a draft order that's a draft? So I think he can, in his capacity of being in charge of procurement, obviously testify on that basis, on his area of responsibility. But beyond that, I don't really have anything else I can add.
Q How do you then assure Republicans that such a disclosure would not be turned to political ends?
MR. CARNEY: Again, you're trying to get me to explain or divulge information about an executive order that hasn’t been finalized. And that process -- if and when that process is completed, I'm sure you’ll be made aware of it.
Q So is the thinking you finalize it and if opponents have challenges they deal with it after?
MR. CARNEY: Again, it’s a draft executive order, Wendell. I think we've stated the general principle. I don't have anything else to add to it.
Q Today the former speaker is throwing his hat in the presidential ring. I wonder if the President has -- President Obama -- has thrown his -- or has expressed an opinion about why it’s taking so long for Republicans to get into the race to run against him.
MR. CARNEY: Not in my presence. And I think he’s --
Q Aside from his formidable record of accomplishments. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: The fact is, because of my job and the travel, I've spent a lot of time with the President since I've taken this job, and I have not heard him discuss in private, even, that process. So I don't have anything to add to it.
Q All right. You have often said that there’s no linkage between raising the debt ceiling and some sort of agreement with Republicans in Congress. But it seems as though now with it being pushed back to August 2nd, according to the Treasury Secretary that accounts can be handled in such a way as the United States will not default on its obligations, doesn’t it seem more apparent now that there is a linkage between a debt plan and a vote in Congress?
MR. CARNEY: Let me make two points. First of all, I just want to be clear about the pushing back of the deadline. It was not because of what the Treasury Department was able to do with accounts, because that was always the case as previous Treasury Departments have been able to do. The reason it was pushed back a little bit was because of higher than expected revenues, which is the nature of these things. And that estimate for when the drop-dead deadline will take place remains an estimate and could be adjusted up or back as more information comes in, more data comes in.
Look, what we have said, and I think we’ve been pretty candid about this, is that both the need to raise the debt ceiling so that the United States of America does not default on its obligations is urgent; the need to deal with our long-term deficit and debt problems is also urgent. We are pursuing -- one has to be done -- has to be done -- unless there’s an outcome here that anyone in a position of power and responsibility could accept that involves catastrophic impacts on the domestic and global economy. I don’t think -- I haven’t seen anyone say that that would be a good outcome. So one has to be done. We have to raise the debt ceiling, because the United States is the United States; it’s the most important, powerful economy in the world. The full faith and credit of the United States government is essentially our reputation in the world. And to default on those obligations would be calamitous, would have calamitous consequences.
That’s why we have said one should not be held hostage to the other. We are pursuing both within the same timeframe. We are pursuing essentially these agenda items on parallel tracks. And we believe that we can reach an agreement on significant deficit reduction within the same timeframe that we need -- that Congress needs to take action to raise the debt ceiling.
But it simply would be folly, as I’ve said before, to say that if we don’t get an agreement or if we don’t get the agreement we want, then we’re just not going to raise the debt ceiling come what may. And the fact is we know what may come if that happens and it is not pretty.
Q Jay, finally, the Federal Appeals Court has ruled, in the case of the Veterans Administration, treatment of veterans with emotional and mental problems -- sort of a really broadside against and an indictment against the treatment of these veterans with these kinds of challenges, calling it “unchecked incompetence.” Do you have anything on that?
MR. CARNEY: I did see that and I will say, generally speaking, that the Veterans Administration and the Justice Department are taking a very hard look at that ruling and will work closely to address any of the issues raised by the court. I think it’s important also to step back and note that President Obama strongly believes that the country has a sacred bond with the men and women who have served in our military, and he has taken dramatic steps to improve the health care -- both physical and mental health -- for our veterans. This has been one of his highest priorities -- both the President, the Vice President, the First Lady, Dr. Biden.
Because of the President’s leadership there has been a dramatic increase in funding and support for veterans’ health care. The VA has seen one of the largest increases in its budget in over 30 years -- in the past 30 years, rather. So this is an issue we take very seriously, and that's why the administration will look at this ruling and consider it closely.
Q Last night at his fundraiser, the President mentioned the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, and that was the first time he had really mentioned foreign policy at all in any of these -- sort of the stump speech he has developed. And I’m wondering --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not sure that's the case. I mean, I think he’s mentioned --
Q Quite a few he didn't. I didn't check every single one, but in any case, certainly the first time he mentioned Osama bin Laden -- for obvious reasons.
MR. CARNEY: I think the first person to mention Osama bin Laden was a crowd member in the audience.
Q Well, yes, but then it was obviously -- also seemed to be part of his text, as well.
MR. CARNEY: I’m just saying, it was --
Q Yes, that's true.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q I’m just wondering if that's going to be part of his normal sort of speech that he delivers on the fundraising circuit.
MR. CARNEY: I think what the President said in his speech was that because of the incredible work, professionalism and commitment and courage of our military men and women, and in particular, those who participated in the mission, and because of the extraordinary work of our intelligence community, we were able to eliminate Osama bin Laden. That happened nine or 10 days ago; certainly prominent on people’s mind, as was evidenced by the -- what a gentleman in the crowd said much earlier in the speech.
So I can’t predict to you what will be in the content of the President’s speeches going forward, but I certainly think what he said last night was entirely appropriate.
Q And is the successful mission among the reasons why the President deserves reelection?
MR. CARNEY: I think the successful mission is a good thing unequivocally -- for America, for the families and loved ones who lost someone on 9/11, for the world in a fight against a scourge. And the President believes that good policy is why he came -- good policy is good politics. That’s why he’s here; that’s why he wanted to be President; that’s why he ran.
That’s like saying, is the fight for health care reform or the fight to lift our economy out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression -- are those elements of his campaign platform? The answer is his record is his record. And obviously he will be running on his record and he will be running on his vision of where this country needs to go and where he thinks -- where he would like to take it in the four years after the end of his first term.
Q I think that’s a yes.
MR. CARNEY: Mark.
Q Jay, do you know if there was discussion in advance on whether he would raise the bin Laden killing in his --
MR. CARNEY: I did not hear any.
Q But it’s an issue which he thinks he should get political points?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Mark, let’s make clear what the President said. He said -- and this was after someone in the audience commented on the successful mission against bin Laden --
MR. CARNEY: -- he said that because of the remarkable work of our armed forces and our intelligence community, we were able to bring Osama bin Laden to justice after a nine-and-a-half year -- or actually much longer hunt. So again, going back to Laura’s question, I don't -- fortunately, having gotten out of the business of writing for a living, I’m not writing his speeches, and I don't anticipate -- I can’t predict what will be in his speeches going forward.
Q And on the Mideast speech, would it be after the meetings with Netanyahu and King Abdullah?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have a date to give you now, but I expect it will be fairly soon.
Q Now that the deadline for the debt ceiling has been moved to August 2nd, given Congress’s record, how concerned are you that the decisions won’t be made until the night of August 1st?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to comments from Secretary Geithner, because there is a risk here that looking at that deadline as the moment to act would create negative consequences, even if action were taken before the deadline. Because if the markets -- as I understand it -- anticipate the possibility -- the unthinkable possibility -- that the United States would somehow not meet its obligations, would default, then we expect, or the experts expect that there would be a reaction, a negative reaction -- a negative reaction for the United States’ economy, a negative reaction for growth and job creation, a negative reaction around the globe.
So that's why we have urged from the beginning, regardless of the slight shifts in the deadline because of some of the issues I mentioned before, that we need to take -- that Congress needs to take action sooner rather than later, because you don't want a situation where, as we approach a deadline, there is any doubt in the markets, the global economy that this is going to get done. Because it will get done -- as every leader in Congress has said, and as the President, the Vice President and others have said -- it will get done because it has to get done, because we are the United States of America and we don't default on our obligations.
Q But giving them that very late --
MR. CARNEY: We’re not -- look, the Secretary of Treasury has an obligation to report on this. It’s not giving him -- or giving, rather, the Congress data. This is what he, as the Secretary of Treasury, is obligated to provide, is information about when we reach our debt ceiling. So we’re not -- the deadline was pushed back a little bit because revenues were higher than expected -- generally a good thing, probably because of economic growth and job creation. But this is not by much, and the fact is the deadline -- the clock is ticking and we need to take action.
Q Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, who chairs the President’s Export Council, said the National Labor Relations Board suit against his company for building a plant in a right-to-work state is a fundamental assault on capitalism. I’m wondering is the President aware of the issue, and does he think the government should be involved in how businesses allocate capital or resources?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s obviously been in the news, so we are aware of it, but I would refer any questions about it to the NLRB because it is an independent agency, and we do not get involved in particular enforcement matters of independent agencies.
Q The President has weighed in on outside issues before, though. I mean is this something -- it’s also coming from someone who is chairing the Export Council, who’s saying this is hurting job creation.
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a reaction to this from the President. And I think the fact that he’s weighed in on outside issues doesn't mean that he will weigh in on an independent agency’s enforcement action.
And on the broader point about capitalism and our support for it, I just want to remind you that yesterday General Motors announced that it would hire 4,200 workers at 17 of its plants around the country. It announced a $2 billion investment.
This is an industry that was on its back when the President took office, and he made a very unpopular decision to do what he thought was the right thing, which was to save the American auto industry, and to do it in a way -- to put taxpayer money on the line to save that industry, but to make sure that in taking that action, that the companies involved would restructure themselves in a way that would make them what they have become, which is profitable, successful leaders in the automotive industry.
And I think another thing I would point out is that -- very encouraging news -- there was from the American Enterprise Institute, a blog post by Mark J. Perry, professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the Flint Campus of the University of Michigan, in which he describes: “The impressive rebound in U.S. manufacturing. That rebound is shown by 7 percent growth in manufacturing in 2010, and 9 percent in the first quarter of 2011, as well as the fact that more manufacturing jobs were created in the first four months of this year than in any year since 1984.” I think that's a very positive sign for our economy.
Q And just finally, does the U.S. have any evidence that Qaddafi is alive or where he is?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn’t want to comment on what intelligence we may or may not have. We obviously are participants in the NATO mission, as I mentioned earlier, and continue the efforts that we’ve undertaken to put pressure on Qaddafi and his regime because he needs to leave power.
Q A question about immigration. Now that he’s made it pretty clear who’s stopping immigration reform from going forward -- Republicans switched on the DREAM Act, they’re moving the goalposts on comprehensive reform -- what plans does the President have to find Republican partners to pass the bill he now --
MR. CARNEY: I think you’ve seen --
Q I mean in Congress, not --
MR. CARNEY: No, I get it, but Congress responds to and is elected by constituents, American people. And they have -- they hear from small business owners, large business owners, corporations, non-profit organizations, citizens in their communities and districts and states. And part of the President’s effort here is to try to build support for comprehensive immigration reform from the outside in, instead of walking up to the Hill and saying, let’s get this done, because -- as a first step -- because obviously that’s a hard approach right now, and so he’s taking a different approach because he’s trying to find the right road in here to get this very important issue done.
Q When does he expect to take the second step?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he just gave a major speech on this yesterday. The other day I was asked about, well, how could he be serious about it since it’s so politically hard? And I made the point that the most valuable commodity, the coin of the realm in the White House is presidential time, and he’s committed a lot of time to it lately. He’ll continue to commit a lot of time to it. I don’t have a scheduling announcement for you. But he clearly, based on what you heard and saw yesterday and the meetings he’s had here, remains committed to comprehensive immigration reform.
Q But it seems like the measure of his seriousness, in addition to his time, is going to be sitting down with some Republicans who could actually work out something that could pass. And I’m just wondering is that what he’s thinking about?
MR. CARNEY: Congress does have to pass legislation, no question. And there will be a point in this process where the legislative piece is pushed forward. I’m not going to give you -- I’m not going to lay out our strategy for how to get this done from here. But I assure you that the commitment, as evidenced by the use of this valuable commodity, the President’s time, and by the words that he speaks on the issue and the meetings that he has, he is committed to it.
Q One other question about it. He seemed to suggest in the speech that even though he wants all the people there to put pressure on Congress for comprehensive reform, but also he said to find things we could do right now. And he mentioned the DREAM Act, and he also mentioned visa reform. Would he be willing to break off little chunks of comprehensive reform like H1BI visa and do that separately?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he would be very willing to sign the DREAM Act into law tomorrow.
Q Right, that I understand. But he mentioned visa reform, which suggested that maybe he saw that as a separate standalone --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to go beyond what the President said. And, obviously, he did mention the possibility of doing those things we could do now, because this is a hard issue and it takes the kind of coalition building that he talked about and the kind of bipartisan effort that is required for anything hard. And he would be pleased with smaller steps if they can be taken and accomplished. And the DREAM Act -- it was a terrible disappointment to him and, obviously, to a lot of people, that the DREAM Act, which passed the House and which won a majority in the Senate, was not able to become law late last year.
Q And visa reform was the same -- one of those smaller steps?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, I would just point you to what the President said.
Q On scheduling, is there anything imminent in terms of the President visiting the areas that have been flooded?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a scheduling update for you on that.
Q Is he likely to go visit anytime soon?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to say likely or unlikely because I just don’t have an announcement to make about presidential trips.
Q And on the debt limit, for all the talk of doing what Congress and the President did on the current fiscal year appropriation short-term extensions, what is the President’s attitude towards short-term extensions of the debt limit?
MR. CARNEY: I would point you to Tim Geithner’s statements on that. I believe he has addressed that. I wouldn’t add to it.
Q Jay, I’ve got some questions for you, a series of questions where DOMA and immigration intersect. Under DOMA, U.S. citizens in legally recognized same-sex marriages cannot sponsor their spouses for residency in the United States. And -- nationals could be subject to deportation and separation from their spouses upon expiration of temporary visas. Members of Congress have been calling on President Obama to issue a temporary moratorium on these deportations. Is there any consideration in the administration to issuing such an order?
MR. CARNEY: The President I think made the point in his speech yesterday that he believes we have to take comprehensive action on immigration reform and that he can’t just wave a wand and change the law. So I’ll leave it at that, in terms of his views.
Q But do you believe that issuing such an order is within the President’s authority?
MR. CARNEY: It’s not for me to decide. I’m not a lawyer.
Q On the legislative side -- on the legislative side, does the President want to see a fix to this problem, whether these nationals are married to their same-sex partners or otherwise, as part of comprehensive immigration reform. There’s legislation that would accomplish this end known as the Uniting American Families Act.
MR. CARNEY: It’s a level of specificity I don’t have. But the President is committed to comprehensive immigration reform. He thinks that it’s got to contain the elements of the continued focus on law enforcement and border control. And it has to deal with changes to legal immigration and a way to deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants here that’s fair to both them and to businesses and to those who are here legally and approaching this in a legal manner.
Q But why didn’t the President address this specific address during his immigration speech yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: He gave a pretty long, comprehensive speech, Chris.
Q Thank you, Jay. And I know April has a question.
Q Thank you.
Q So both Pakistan and the U.S. intelligence community are looking into whether and what there was in terms of any official Pakistani complicity in harboring --
MR. CARNEY: I think they’re looking into what support network there was, official or otherwise.
Q So my question is, are you committing to giving the American people that information if any such evidence is found? And if any such evidence is uncovered, how might it affect U.S. policy toward Pakistan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’re throwing out a lot of hypotheticals. Let me say that obviously we think it’s important to keep the American people informed on these and other important matters; it is also important that matters of intelligence are not things that we can discuss publicly or in particular from this podium. So the broader --
Q Does that mean you might --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to address a hypothetical because you’re presupposing an outcome to these investigations that we don’t know.
Let me just say more broadly that we understand the concern that’s out there about the fact that Osama bin Laden was able to find refuge in Abbottabad for as long as he did. We obviously share that concern. We have to focus additionally on the fact that Pakistan has been a vital partner in the fight against al Qaeda, and terrorists and terrorism more broadly. And that cooperation that we’ve achieved with Pakistan, despite the differences that we have and the problems the relationship sometimes encounters, that cooperation has been extremely helpful in the effort to capture or kill the most ruthless terrorists in the world. And again, as I’ve said and others have said, more of those terrorists have been captured and killed because of cooperation with Pakistan on Pakistani soil than anywhere else.
Q If I could sum up what you’re saying, just to make sure I understand, you’re saying you might share the evidence with the American people unless it’s intelligence information that can’t be shared, and it might --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we won’t share classified intelligence information. But again, that’s unrelated to your question. You’re presupposing an outcome to an investigation of which there is no outcome at this point.
Q Well, I’m just wondering if --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have --
Q Okay. And then just to sum up the second part, what you’re saying is, depending on what’s discovered, it might or might not affect the U.S. relationship with Pakistan?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re posing a hypothetical, and what I will say about the relationship with Pakistan is that -- well, two things. One, I’ll point you to what Tom Donilon said on Sunday about what we know so far and what we don’t know. And two, nobody is pretending that this is not a complicated relationship where there are times when we don’t see eye-to-eye or we disagree. But it remains very much in the interests of the American people that we maintain a cooperative relationship with Pakistan. It is vital to our national security interest and to the effort -- the war that we have been waging against al Qaeda now for so many years.
April. I’ll go to April.
Q Jay, I have two questions. One, what is the agenda tomorrow for the President’s meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus? You had somewhat of a general overview, but what is the dynamic of that meeting tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: April, I don’t have anything more to add to what I said I guess it was yesterday or the other day. I just don’t -- I don’t know that it’s any more specific than the agenda -- the President’s agenda with Congress.
Q Any conversations on the jobs issue, particularly --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m sure that jobs and the --
Q -- the African American unemployment numbers and what not?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. Jobs and the economy are --
Q Black teens, 44 percent unemployment rate.
MR. CARNEY: That might be the case -- it might be part of the dialogue. But I don’t have an agenda for you.
Q Okay. And also, I just got off the phone with singer, poet, philanthropist Jill Scott who’s performing tonight for the poetry and prose. And she said she’s very disappointed to hear about the critics of Common -- Sarah Palin and some of the GOP to include people in the New Jersey State Police -- about his stand and his comments. What does this White House have to say as Common is an invited guest to be able to deliver his poetry and prose to the group that’s coming tonight?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll make a couple of points about that, April. First of all, the President does not support and opposes the kinds of lyrics that have been written about, as he has in the past. He has spoken very forcefully out against violent and misogynist lyrics. Secondly, in regard to the concerns by some law enforcement, this President’s record of support for law enforcement is extremely strong. He remains committed to the men and women who protect the American citizens and put themselves in harm’s way all the time. He was able to express that appreciation and support just last week in New York when he met with police and firefighters.
And I would say that while the President doesn’t support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, he does -- I mean, we do think that some of these reports distort what Mr. Lynn stands for, more broadly, in order to stoke a controversy. I mean, he is -- within the genre of hip-hop and rap, he is what’s known as a conscience rapper -- or a conscious rapper, rather. And I would quote a report just six months ago from Fox News where he was described as a rap legend and quote, “Your music is very positive and you’re known as the conscious rapper. How important is that to you, and how important do you think that is to our kids?”
And I think that one of the things that the President appreciates is the work that Mr. Lynn has done with children, especially in Chicago, trying to get them to focus on poetry, as opposed to some of the negative influences of life on the street.
Q Jay, “conscious” was the word you used?
MR. CARNEY: Conscious.
MR. CARNEY: Conscious, yes. Conscious rapper -- as in socially conscious.
MR. CARNEY: So going back to my conversation with Jill Scott just literally a few minutes ago, she said it’s about freedoms and it’s about creativity, and it’s his thoughts, his opinions. She’s supporting his thought.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look --
Q And then -- but wait a minute. But also, at the same time, did this White House vet any of the poetry that the poets are delivering tonight before they deliver them?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know specifically about the vetting process. The fact is, Mr. Lynn has participated in other events in the past, including the lighting of the Christmas Tree, I believe. I mean, he’s a Grammy award-winning -- multi Grammy-award winning artist. And he’s been invited to this event about poetry, and partly because of his efforts to bring poetry to audiences that don’t get to experience it. And we think that’s a positive thing.
Q Can I follow on that? I mean what --
MR. CARNEY: If you must. (Laughter.)
Q Well, somewhat must. I mean, why would it that someone who has made statements threatening to kill police officers get invited to --
MR. CARNEY: Keith, let me just make clear that we oppose --
Q -- is it an appropriate thing for him to be here?
MR. CARNEY: He has spoken out about -- very strongly against -- as an elected official, as an American and as a father, against those kinds of lyrics. And he opposes them. But he does not think that that is the sum total of this particular artist’s work, which has been recognized by a lot of mainstream organizations and fair and balanced organizations like Fox News, which described his music as very positive.
Q Are you sarcastic when you say that?
Q -- but I mean, is it then possible that whatever your overriding message -- that killing cops is a very serious matter -- you can basically say anything as long as your overriding message is positive and get invited to the White House?
MR. CARNEY: I’ve addressed this. We -- the President opposes those kinds of lyrics. He thinks they’re harmful. Again, I think that taking that -- it’s ironic to pick out those particular lyrics about this particular artist, when in fact, he’s known as a socially conscious hip-hop artist or rapper who has done a lot of good things. He’s not -- you can oppose some of what he’s done and appreciate some of the other things he’s done.
Q Is there concern he’ll get associated with that?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s all I can say on that.
Q -- as racist?
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, go ahead.
Q Thank you. On Syria, Jay, does the administration has a response to the shellings that are -- that took place today?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, we strongly condemn and oppose the violence in Syria. And we continue to work unilaterally and collectively with our allies to urge the government of Syria to cease the violence, to engage in political dialogue. Because stability will not come -- I mean, there are a lot of reasons. One, it’s abhorrent to use violence in any form against peaceful protestors and against unarmed citizens, your own citizens. But, two, if what they seek is stability, they are sowing the seeds of more instability by doing what they’re doing, and we strongly condemn that.
Q Can you understand how maybe the people of Syria, like the actual citizenry that’s being targeted by the Assad administration, feels like they’re being left out or they’re being overlooked? Because, I mean, the U.S. --
MR. CARNEY: Not at all.
Q -- the U.S. and NATO has been increasing pressures against the Qaddafi regime.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve been increasing pressure against Syria as well, with the sanction we’ve announced --
Q But there’s never been a call for Assad to step down. There’s never been any statement saying he’s not a legitimate leader anymore.
MR. CARNEY: I will say on that issue, again, with the comparisons to Syria, it is important to remember that each country in this region that has experienced upheaval is different in many ways. And the situation with Libya was quite distinct and unique in terms of the state of the country at the time that the United Nations and NATO took action, the imminence of a brutal assault on a city of 750,000 people -- people who were basically -- had a sword over their necks, being held by the leader of the Libyan regime, Muammar Qaddafi, who promised to show no mercy to those citizens of that city. And there was a capacity that the U.N. resolution enabled for NATO to protect those civilians, enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo that would achieve those tailored military goals.
As for Syria, we, again, strongly condemn the Syrian government’s use of violence. It has been made abundantly clear to the Syrian government that its security crackdown will not restore stability and will not stop the demands for change in Syria. The Syrian government continues to follow the lead of its Iranian ally in resorting to brute force and flagrant violations of human rights and suppressing peaceful protest. And history is not on the side of this kind of action.
Q Do you continue to believe that Assad is the type of leader that can usher in --
MR. CARNEY: Again, it’s up to -- as it is in all these countries, it’s up to the people of the region to decide who its leader should be. But we believe that the government ought to listen to its people, refrain from violence, and engage in political dialogue.
Thank you, guys.
1:12 P.M. EDT
March 8, 2014
March 8, 2014
March 7, 2014
March 7, 2014
March 7, 2014
March 6, 2014
March 6, 2014
March 6, 2014