Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6/20/2011
BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
Please see below for a correction (marked with asterisks) to the transcript.
2:02 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Before I take questions I just have a couple of quick announcements. First, tomorrow I will be joined here in the briefing room by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg for an important announcement regarding tobacco use and public health.
Also I'd like to announce that the continuation of the meetings being led by the Vice President will take place tomorrow. There will be three meetings this week -- Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday -- on Capitol Hill, and further meetings as necessary.
Those are my announcements. And I'll take questions. Jim.
Q Thank you, Jay. On Afghanistan, the President will be out of town later, Thursday and Friday. Is he prepared to announce his drawdown plans for Afghanistan before that?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, as you know, the President himself said that his announcement would come soon, and I will reiterate that his announcement will come soon. He is out of town on Thursday and Friday, or parts of Thursday and Friday, as you said, but -- well, let me just say that his announcement will come soon. And what I can say affirmatively because I know for a fact, having been in a room where this was discussed, the President has not yet even made a decision to announce. But that announcement will come soon.
Q Can you clarify that -- a decision not to announce?
MR. CARNEY: No, I'm sorry, the President is still in the process of finalizing his decision on the pace and scope of the drawdown that will begin in July of 2011.
Q -- knows where he's going to announce it?
MR. CARNEY: That's not what I said. I was simply making the point that the announcement will come soon, but pointing out that he is still finalizing his decision that will be announced.
Q Well, the media in Watertown, New York are already saying that he's going to be at Fort Drum, so would that --
MR. CARNEY: He is going to go Fort Drum. But I would --
Q Would that be a place where he would make such an announcement?
MR. CARNEY: I would steer you away from that.
Q On Libya -- I ask this against the background of NATO acknowledging that one of its strikes Sunday accidentally struck a residential neighborhood in the capital, killing civilians. Why did the President choose to reject the suggestions of the Pentagon general counsel to stop drone strikes, thus avoid the hostilities threshold in the War Powers resolution? Is the use of drones essential to the success of the NATO -- are U.S. drones essential to the success of the NATO mission?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what we are doing in our support role in the NATO mission is providing intelligence, refueling, and other capabilities that allow this mission to proceed effectively. We also on occasion do use our unmanned aircraft for purposes, again, because we have a unique capability to assist in this mission. The mission is led by our NATO partners; we are in an assist role.
I don't have a -- I'm not even sure I understand the question. But the President feels strongly that the role that we are taking in this mission is effective, that the NATO mission overall has been very effective, and that it is keeping the pressure on Colonel Qaddafi, and that it is allowing the opposition there the space it needs to organize and to prepare Libya for a post-Qaddafi role.
Q Well, it seems that the Pentagon general counsel's position was that without the drone strikes you can still continue all the other support aspects of the mission but not necessarily have to meet the War Powers deadline requirements and therefore you --
MR. CARNEY: But it is the President's judgment and his decision to make that the hostilities threshold was not -- is not being met currently through the participation we have in this mission. There has obviously been debate and discussion among lawyers on the issue of applicability of the War Powers resolution, not surprising given how contentious the debate has been in the nearly 40 years since the resolution passed. So the point being that the President makes this decision. Obviously other attorneys from around the administration -- lawyers from around the administration were able to express their views, but it is our judgment, the President's judgment, that the action being taken by the United States in its support role for this NATO mission do not meet the threshold set by the War Powers resolution in the hostilities phrase.
Q What kind of discussions is the White House involved in to head off a vote on the Hill that would restrict spending on the Libya operation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I will tell you is that, first of all, what's beyond dispute -- let's step back for a minute -- is the fact that we have averted a massacre, saved thousands of lives, and reversed the advance of Colonel Qaddafi's forces, giving the Libyan people, as I said, a chance to determine their future. We have also kept the President’s commitment to transfer responsibility to our coalition partners for the enforcement of the civilian protection mission, and are now in a support role.
We don’t think it would be helpful as a matter of policy for a message to be sent that in any way is not supportive of the goals that we think Congress shares, which is to keep the pressure on Qaddafi and to continue to have our partners carry the burden of this mission, with the United States in a support role.
Q Jay, thanks. On the Greek debt crisis, the European finance minister gave Greece two weeks today to come up with additional austerity measures in return for a 12 billion euro loan. Does the administration think that there’s a risk in delaying two weeks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we believe, the administration believes, that the Greeks and the Europeans, broadly, the IMF, the EU, have the capacity to deal with these challenges. And we continue to believe that they can and will. We have been encouraged by some of the steps that the Greek government has taken and we encourage them to press on with the reforms necessary to get this situation -- to get it right. So we believe that working with the EU, working with the IMF, that together the capacity exists to resolve this.
Q So any reaction to the development today?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think we’re looking to them because we believe they have the capacity to deal with this. We are obviously monitoring this very closely and we are in regular communication with our European counterparts.
Q And how would you characterize your concerns about the risk of contagion from the Greek situation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think we have said and believe that it does create a headwind and that’s why it needs to be resolved for the global economy, but that we believe Europe, working with the Greek government, can resolve it.
Let me go to Dan.
Q On Muammar Qaddafi still being in power despite the NATO airstrikes and the pressure by the international community, is there frustration at all in the administration that he keeps digging in his heels despite all of that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we recognize that Muammar Qaddafi would like to remain in power. And I think that the focus of our non-military efforts has been to increase the pressure on the Qaddafi regime, and that has been successful in terms of the pressure being increased. We have seen it in the sanctions that have been levied, the fact that so many members of his inner circle have defected. We look to that to continue. We believe his days are numbered. What we cannot say with precision is which day will be his final day in power. But we do believe his days are numbered.
Q Can the operation be a success if he is never removed from power?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President addressed this, that when -- again, we have to distinguish between the operations here, but even the NATO mission, because it is United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, designed to protect Libyan civilians and protect the Libyan people from assault by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, that as long as Colonel Qaddafi is in power and has the pretense of having power and is trying to assert it, he will have to do that by force, or will try to do that by force. And therefore, I don’t anticipate that the Libyan people will feel secure as long as he is doing that.
Q And on this weekend’s golf game, the President’s reaction to it, and did it -- I know we weren’t looking for any breakthroughs of the debt ceiling discussions and so forth. But did it create a more friendly climate between the two leaders?
MR. CARNEY: I think it did. I believe the President felt good about it. He was -- he enjoyed it. He enjoyed partnering with the Speaker. He enjoyed winning with the Speaker. (Laughter.)
Q Two dollars.
MR. CARNEY: A win is a win. And -- no, he really did. It was a very worthwhile encounter. And I think both the President and the Vice President -- they were talking about it this morning and they enjoyed it.
Q Does it go to the deficit, the two dollars? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: That’s a good -- maybe we should do that. Pay down the debt. But it serves the purpose that I spoke about -- not to resolve the disagreements or the challenges that the leaders share, but to help create an environment where the talks as they go forward, on deficit reduction, on dealing with the debt ceiling vote, on all the issues that leaders in Congress and the administration have to deal with -- it makes all of these conversations a little easier, a little more collegial. And that makes the outing entirely worthwhile.
Q Jay, could I ask on -- over the weekend, did the President talk to Speaker Boehner at all directly about Libya and the Speaker’s insistence that this week Congress will do something about the War Powers authorization, including the option of cutting off money?
MR. CARNEY: Ann, I’m not going to read out the conversation beyond to say that they touched on a lot of different subjects, including subjects that are very much in the news. And that -- without getting specific about what was said, that would include everything we talk about and read about for the most part.
Q What would the President say to the Speaker specifically about cutting off money or Libyan operations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just say that at a time when Colonel Qaddafi is under great pressure and our allies are bearing a considerable burden of the effort, it would send a bad message to both Qaddafi and to our friends around the world on the funding issue to have a vote like that. The core goal of this mission is to protect civilians, a mission that Congress supports. And we should continue to provide that support.
And if I could say, it is -- we are in a situation where because the President made very clear from the beginning that the United States would not have the lead in a sustained way, that this would be a shared burden with our allies taking the lead after days and not weeks, it is important now, with our allies undertaking the majority of the burden, that we support our allies in doing that and continue with the mission. NATO has extended the mission. We are a part of that coalition and we believe it’s very important for the United States, the administration, and Congress to continue with support for the mission.
Q The Speaker disagrees with his reasoning on that. In terms of Afghanistan, what is it the President is doing now? Is he still asking for advice on --
MR. CARNEY: He is finalizing his decision. He is reviewing the options and the assessments, and will have an announcement to make soon.
Q Does he have to go back to the Pentagon or anyone else at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he has had a number of consultations with his national security team, all members from obviously his uniform command, his civilian command -- civilian leadership, rather -- all of the principals on the national security team. He is continuing those consultations and will have an announcement soon.
Q As he works on his Afghan decision, is he taking into account the feelings of the mayors meeting in Baltimore who would like some of that money freed up for jobs, because jobs are their primary issue and, of course, not to put too fine a point on it, jobs may be the primary issue for the President next year?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, he looks at in terms of the mission, the strategy he laid out in December of 2009, and the objectives that he laid out then. And I think it’s sometimes helpful, and this would be probably that time, to review what the mission in Afghanistan was, as the President set out in his announcement on December 1, 2009, which is defeat, disrupt -- I mean, disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda; to break the momentum of the Taliban; and to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan to allow the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces to begin the process of taking over the security lead in their country.
We have made significant progress towards achieving those goals. Obviously the most sensational and significant data point in that progress -- of that progress is the elimination of Osama bin Laden. But there has been enormous progress in disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region beyond and below Osama bin Laden. There has been significant progress in disrupting or halting the momentum of the Taliban, and significant progress in stabilizing Afghanistan and the government to allow Afghan national security forces to build up, to train, and prepare for taking over the lead.
So he looks at this decision as the part of a process of a policy he put in motion in December of 2009. He said at the time that he would begin the drawdown of the surge forces in July of 2011. That will happen. The pace and scope of that will depend on his assessment of how far we've come in achieving the goals that he set out. He is very mindful of the fact -- of the cost of military engagement. And I mean cost in lives, in injuries, and in treasure.
Q What will he tell the mayors about job?
MR. CARNEY: He is about -- he is very focused on jobs as well. But his focus on this is getting the mission right, because it’s in the national security interests of the United States to get the mission right. Because al Qaeda -- remember, going back to the campaign, the war we needed to focus on was the war against al Qaeda in this region, and that’s what he’s done. We’ve made significant progress and now we’re -- because of the bravery of our men and women in uniform, the success of our intelligence officials, and the decisions the President made to bring us to this point. And that’s the prism through which he’ll make this decision.
Q But the mayors, understandably, are concerned about jobs.
MR. CARNEY: Well, so is the President.
Q And they’re going to want to know what he’s going to offer, what can he do that he’s not already done.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there are a number of things that we’ve talked about, including we need to get those free trade agreements passed because they will support 70,000 jobs in the United States. We need to get this deficit and debt agreement done in a balanced way that sends the signal to the American people and to the financial markets that we are getting our fiscal house in order. And that will send -- if done properly in a way that doesn’t arrest the development and the progress that we’ve seen so far -- if done properly will, we believe, provide a jolt of confidence in the direction that we are heading.
And then in other measures that the President has talked about, including, for example, the bipartisan support for developing more infrastructure -- for building roads, airports -- repairing roads and airports and bridges, so that we can have that foundation, that infrastructure foundation that we need in the 21st century. And then --
Q Well, that’s great, but where do you get the money?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I mean, we are working with Congress to do this. And another thing that the President has out there that he’d like to see acted on is making permanent and expanding the R&D tax credit, again, creating incentives for the kind of economic development that we believe will be the foundation for economic growth in the 21st century.
But backing up, Bill, as I’ve said repeatedly, we are talking about obviously a very important decision that the President is making about the drawdown in Afghanistan. But the primary focus that he has every day is on jobs and the economy. And even as he’s having these meetings about the Afghan drawdown, he is also focused on jobs and the economy and the ways that we -- the decisions that he can make and work with Congress to make in order to spur the kind of economic growth that we’ve seen, to continue it, to make the growth stronger and deeper, and to create more jobs.
I mean, don’t forget, we have seen seven straight quarters of economic growth. Not enough, but we’ve made progress. We’ve seen 2.1 million private sector jobs created. Substantial, but not enough. We need to continue. So the President is very focused on that.
Q Over the weekend, Ambassador Eikenberry had some comments seemed to be aimed at Afghan President Karzai, calling some of his criticism hurtful and inappropriate, suggesting he’s testing America’s patience -- most recently, with a speech that Karzai made on Saturday. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. CARNEY: I would just say that we have seen the remarks that President Karzai has made, but we stand by the contributions the U.S. is making on both the civilian and military side. We are certainly there because the United States of America was attacked on September 11th, 2001, and that that attack was organized in Afghanistan by al Qaeda leaders. That is why the objective that we have, the reason why we’re there, the primary objective is to enhance the national security of the United States of America.
We believe that our objectives coincide with Afghan objectives, and that disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda is in both of our interest -- in halting the momentum of the Taliban is in both of our interests. And as I’ve said from here and others have said, ultimately reaching a political solution on al Qaeda [the Taliban] is in the interest of the Afghan people as well as the people of the United States.*
Q Karzai has called us “occupiers.”
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just say that, again, we stand by the contributions we’ve made. We are there for a specific reason, to achieve specific goals. We have no desire to stay there any longer than necessary. The President has made that clear. We need to achieve our goals. And we will, as outlined in Lisbon at the NATO conference, we will turn over full security lead to Afghan security forces in 2014. We work with the Afghan government in a variety of ways to achieve these goals that we think we -- that we share with the Afghan government.
We understand that President Karzai has concerns about some of the operations and we consult with him regularly about that. And we take actions accordingly when we think they are due because we, too, share concerns about, for example, civilian casualties. But, again, we’re not going to apologize for the contributions that we make, both civilian and military, in Afghanistan.
Q Secretary Gates has suggested we need a robust presence in Afghanistan for at least through 2012. Does that indicate that the drawdown the President will announce in a matter of days, I believe you suggested, may be less substantial than a lot of his supporters would like?
MR. CARNEY: Wendell, I’m going to leave it to the President to make an announcement about the drawdown and the size of the drawdown and the pace of the drawdown. I would point out that we have 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The surge of 30,000 forces was substantial, building on 68,000 that were already there, and that that is a robust and substantial number of American forces -- I think most Americans would agree with that.
Q Robust without the surge?
MR. CARNEY: Again, without getting into a discussion of the numbers, we have a large presence in Afghanistan. We have them there to achieve a specific mission laid out by the President. We have made great strides towards achieving the objectives laid out in the mission that the President articulated in December of 2009. And he will make his decision based on the need to succeed further in achieving those objectives and to transfer authority gradually -- security authority over to the Afghan national security forces, with an eye to the fact that, as agreed to by NATO in Lisbon, we will eventually transfer full security lead over the ANSF in 2014.
Q Jay, does the President believe the War Powers Act is constitutional? And apologies if that question was asked last week.
MR. CARNEY: It was asked in a variety of ways. What I can tell you is the decision that the President made does not address that question because he does not believe the War Powers resolution threshold is met by the actions -- by the mission the United States is currently engaged in, in Libya.
Q So he doesn’t have an opinion on this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t -- the President has expressed an opinion on the War Powers resolution in the past. I don’t --
Q As President of the United States?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any update to that. The point is that this is not -- that this decision that he made, the legal analysis that we sent forward to Congress and provided to you, does not assess the constitutionality question, because he does not believe that the War Powers resolution needs to be invoked in this manner, because it doesn’t apply, given the fact that the mission that we’re engaged in does not meet the hostilities threshold.
Q Can you describe the nature of what you asked folks at the Justice Department for when it comes to the legalities of this? Did you just ask them for advice that just wasn’t in writing?
MR. CARNEY: There was an informal discussion. Views were solicited from across the administration.
Q Including from people in the --
MR. CARNEY: Yes -- including the Justice Department. I don’t know which particular lawyers, but as the Justice Department has stated publicly, its views were heard and the President made his decision, “as was appropriate for him to do.” And as you saw this week, a number of key players affirmed the President’s position, including Senator Reid, Secretary Gates, and others.
Q Their views he heard -- what were the views?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the point is it’s the President’s decision to make. And that is both the -- that’s a fact. When you’re President of the United States, this is your decision to make. Views were solicited and were shared. The President heard, was aware of, all the arguments here. This is obviously a matter where there’s been disagreement since the moment it was passed.
Q So it was not unanimous.
MR. CARNEY: No question --
Q Not a unanimous legal interpretation --
MR. CARNEY: When you say “inside” --
Q -- within the administration.
MR. CARNEY: And it would be shocking -- if I were to stand up here on a matter of War Powers resolution, an issue that has been under hot debate since it was passed in 1973 in the legal community, for me to get up and tell you that by some miracle every lawyer in this administration was in agreement on that issue, you wouldn’t believe me, because it’s simply been too contentious for now 38 years.
So, yes, there was not a unanimous agreement on it. But the President makes the decision. Obviously, his White House counsel, State Department lawyer also agree with his assessment, and we feel very confident that the legal reasoning is sound.
Q Should we know whether the President believes the War Powers Act is constitutional or not?
MR. CARNEY: Look, again, you can ask him that when -- the next time we have a press conference. But the important part here is that we are not making a judgment on the constitutionality of the War Powers Act with this reasoning. We are simply stating that the War Powers resolution does not need to be invoked because the hostilities clause of that resolution is not achieved by -- is not met -- that threshold is not met by the activities that we’re engaged in.
Q You still believe you've kept Congress -- you’ve done everything you can to keep Congress informed of what you’ve been doing?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think we’re -- my guess is -- I stopped counting at 40 but I’m sure the engagements, the consultations, are now above 50 since we --
Q Could you have done a better job?
MR. CARNEY: -- began this mission. Look, I think we’ve done an excellent job in consulting with and keeping Congress apprised of what we’re doing, in answering questions that Congress has asked us about the mission, in a 30-plus page report last week that answered a host of questions that was put forward by the House resolutions. And we will continue to do that. I think that on the -- if your question is about consultations, I think we more than clear the bar.
Q Senator McConnell said -- thank you for taking my question -- Senator McConnell said over the weekend that he thinks Congress and the White House should consider doing just a short-term -- raising the debt limit for a short period of time to kind of readdress this issue in the fall. Is that something the White House would support?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to negotiate the resolution to the debt ceiling vote from here. We are very focused on the talks being led by the Vice President. We are very focused on the need to move with speed on taking a vote to raise the debt ceiling limit. And beyond that, I’m not going to negotiate the particulars. We believe, as we’ve said from the beginning, that this is not a matter that we can put off to the last minute because any suggestion that we might default on our obligations could have a negative impact on the economy and on the markets. But we are confident that the negotiations being led by the Vice President on reducing the deficit will reach a positive conclusion and we are confident that the Congress will vote to raise the debt ceiling.
Q You had said I believe it was last week that the President would start taking a more direct -- I guess get involved more directly. Obviously he played golf over the weekend with the Speaker. But with regards to these talks, what kind of direct role will he play? Will he go into the meetings this week or --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t anticipate him joining the Vice President’s meetings, but I do expect that his engagement will continue. And it has existed already in other -- through other means, through other communications. Obviously the agreement that’s reached in the Biden-led talks will then be reviewed by leaders in both parties and both houses and obviously by the administration. The President is regularly updated on the progress of those negotiations, on the content of the discussions, and obviously, as you noted, had spent a number of hours with the Speaker of the House as well as the Vice President over the weekend.
Q Jay, what is the reason for the Fort Drum visit?
MR. CARNEY: The President looks forward to visiting with soldiers at Fort Drum. He has obviously -- makes visits like that, most recently at Fort Campbell. Fort Drum is the location of units that have served quite honorably and at some significant sacrifice, so he looks forward to meeting with those soldiers.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an announcement about what he’s going to do there beyond meet with soldiers.
Q And is there any reaction here to the Supreme Court ruling on the Walmart case?
MR. CARNEY: I do think we have something on that, but let me see. I can tell you this, that ending pay discrimination in the workplace is a key priority for the President. Signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was one of his first acts as President and he has continued to call for additional legislation to equalize pay in the workplace.
As you know, the United States was not involved in the Supreme Court’s Walmart decision today, which involved the interpretation of complex rules of civil procedure relating to the certification of plaintiffs class actions. Our lawyers are studying the decision now to determine what effects it might have.
Q So the administration is disappointed with the court’s decision?
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn’t say that at all. The lawyers are studying the decision now to determine what effects it might have. I simply made the point that this -- that ending pay discrimination has been a key priority of this presidency from the beginning.
Q Well, you can’t -- the administration can’t be satisfied.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have a legal analysis from the administration or the White House’s point of view at this point because the lawyers are studying it.
Q Would you rule out a press conference this week by the President?
MR. CARNEY: I would never rule out a press conference this week or any week.
Q Do you think it’s likely?
Q He’s behind that door right now.
Q Rule it in.
Q Yes, rule it in.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any announcements.
Q Should we expect an Afghan decision this week?
MR. CARNEY: I will only say that it will be soon.
Q But not yet? Before the 4th of July.
Q A question about the -- couple of questions about the debt ceiling talks. You’re saying that the agreement -- any agreement that’s reached will be reviewed by the administration? I mean, doesn’t Vice President Biden speak for the President?
MR. CARNEY: No, he does. I just mean that this is something that Congress has to act on, no question, so that it’s not -- the process doesn’t end when the Vice President and those folks in the room emerge and say we have a deal. So that -- I was just trying to answer the question about the President’s engagement, that it doesn’t -- it is not limited to the talks themselves and the question about whether he would drop in the talks. It is in addition to the talks, and could potentially extend beyond the talks as this process moves forward. The focus now is getting an agreement among the participants in the room.
Q And in terms of that agreement, you didn’t want to say anything about the possibility of a short-term debt ceiling increase?
MR. CARNEY: You noticed that?
Q I’m surprised that you wouldn’t have a clear preference for one that got you all the way through the two years.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we would have --
Q I mean, you’re willing to do this again and again?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t say one way or another -- and you noticed that. But our focus is on moving quickly with intensity and determination -- collegiality and optimism -- to reach an agreement -- (laughter) -- no seriously, to reach an agreement in the negotiations being led by the Vice President on deficit reduction and dealing with our long-term debt.
As we have said for a long time now, we understand that there is a link in the sense that while we don’t think there’s a direct link, nor should there be that should be held hostage to the other, that others have made that link. We believe both can be done within the same time frame, and that it is essential to vote to raise the debt ceiling. It’s a vote by Congress. We cannot control the amount by which they raise the debt ceiling or the timing of the vote.
So our focus is on the things that we can do, which -- in this case, reach an agreement in the negotiations being led by the Vice President; continue to make the case, as Secretary Geithner and I and others have made, that we cannot play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States government, that we need to honor all our obligations. And beyond that, I’m not going to negotiate how we get from here to there from the podium.
Q But by not saying anything on this you’re making a short-term debt ceiling increase into an option, aren’t you?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I’m saying is I’m not going to negotiate the particulars of the vote when it happens, or for how long it happens, the size of the limit increase from here, because I think that is something that needs to be worked out in Congress, and between the leaders of Congress and the administration.
Q Okay. And one last question. You said that you’re going to talk to the mayors about all these things you want done on the economy, like trade agreements and infrastructure and R&D tax credits. How important is it that there is something stimulative in the debt ceiling deal? Some payroll tax cut -- something like that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, without negotiating the particulars, again, of the agreement, I will say that as the President has said, that we are interested in discussions or happy to entertain discussions about extending the payroll tax cut that was implemented in last year’s -- last December’s tax cut agreement, and we are generally interested in other ideas for how to continue to grow the economy and create jobs. We are also very mindful of the fact that we need to get our deficits and debt under control.
This is -- this is all about balance. This is about achieving the right mix of decisions within a broader package, both within the debt ceiling -- I mean, rather, the deficit reductions talks, and broadly going forward from there that allow for the economy to continue to grow and create jobs.
In our view, that’s through some targeted investments -- in addition to some other measures, some targeted investments in education, in research and development, innovation and infrastructure -- and cutting spending, as we have already in somewhat dramatic and historic fashion, cutting spending where it can be cut, to send the signal to the American people and the broader markets that we are getting our fiscal house in order. And we need to do that in a balanced way, and we believe that the best way to do that in a balanced way is to address all forms of spending, including spending through the tax code.
Q Jay, I can’t recall all your direct quotes, but before the government shutdown you kept talking about tollbooths, extending for a short term is bad, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Wouldn't those same arguments be the same for the debt ceiling but even more so – short-term extensions would not be positive for the economy in the same way they weren’t for the --before leading up to the government shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t remember that quote at all. Did I say something about tollbooths?
Q Tollbooth repeatedly was used.
Q Over and over again, in fact, yes.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I am not going to today make a judgment about different ideas that are being floated about when and how and for how much and how long the debt ceiling should be raised, because our focus right now is on the things that we are doing at a staff level today and beginning tomorrow with the Vice President leading the next meeting of negotiators.
So we remain very focused on the fact that we must make this vote and we must raise the debt ceiling because we cannot, as the United States of America, fail to fulfill our obligations, default on our obligations. But I don’t want to get into the particulars from here.
Q -- the President’s views on the gay marriage bill in New York, does he have any -- has he looked into --
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t heard any expressed about that. I have obviously -- he’s obviously addressed this at the press conference at the end of last year and I don’t have an update on his position.
Q Jay, Secretary Gates over the weekend confirmed preliminary talks with the Taliban for a political settlement. I wonder whether you could if possible flesh out a bit how that’s happening, who in the administration is heading that effort. And also in that comment he also expressed skepticism about this having a positive outcome, that it would be very difficult. Does the White House share his skepticism?
MR. CARNEY: About the reconciliation process having a positive outcome?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s obviously a difficult process, but ultimately there is no outcome in Afghanistan that doesn’t involve reconciliation because this is about the Afghan Taliban talking to the Afghan government, representative of the Afghan people, and that for a resolution to take place I think leaders on all sides -- military, civilian, both parties -- have said that ultimately there has to be a political agreement.
We believe that reconciliation is necessary and we support the efforts of an Afghan-led process of reconciliation and reintegration that would bring fighters off the battlefield. Now, we do that with conditions, conditions shared by the Afghan government, which is that they renounce violence, they break with al Qaeda, and they agree to adhere to the Afghan constitution.
I wouldn’t suggest this is an easy process, but it is a necessary process. I need to point out that it is an Afghan-led process, that we are supporting the process initiated by and being led by the Karzai government. But we, of course, are willing to participate in that process. But this is a negotiation between Afghans, between potential reconcilable Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government.
Q Would it be the State Department that would be the lead agent on this?
MR. CARNEY: You might want to check with DOD or State. But, obviously, we have a substantial civilian presence in Afghanistan, a substantial military presence. I don’t know who is involved specifically in terms of this reconciliation process.
Q Jay, is ATF Director Kenneth Melson resigning, and is the President dissatisfied with the handling of the Fast and Furious operation?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything new for you on Fast and Furious beyond what I think I said the last time I briefed, which was Thursday. And I don’t have anything for you on ATF. Maybe ATF itself or Justice might have on that.
Q Melson retains his confidence -- the President?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have -- all I can tell you is that you should take those questions to the Department of Justice. I just don’t have any guidance for you.
Q Just quickly back on the troops decision. Over the weekend, Secretary Gates used the past tense to refer to the process. Is it over in some sense, the President’s decision-making process? I mean, has he reached a point where he is not consulting anymore?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is not over.
Q Has the President reopened the strategy decision at all?
MR. CARNEY: The process here -- and I made clear he is finalizing his decision. But I know from being in a room where he was discussing it today, that he is still finalizing his decision. It has not been made snd he is continuing to consult with his national security team.
Q But is he just reapplying the strategy decision he made in 2009?
MR. CARNEY: The strategy doesn’t change. And I think I -- I've tried to make that clear. The strategy and the objectives are the same. And the decision about the size and the pace of the drawdown is made after an assessment of how far we have come in achieving our objectives. And, again, I think it’s important to remember what those objectives were, as he laid out very clearly in December of 2009.
The primary objective, the reason why we’re in Afghanistan to begin with, the reason why we went there in the wake of 9/11 -- disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. The second objective, reverse the momentum, break the momentum of the Taliban in order to service the first. Third objective, to stabilize Afghanistan and the Afghan government enough so that Afghan national security forces could be trained up -- could expand in size and be trained up so that they could gradually take over security of their country, take the security lead.
Those objectives have always been there, have always been clear since the President announced his decision. And we have made significant progress, significant success in achieving those objectives thus far. We’re not done. But that is -- those objectives won't change. And this decision is about a drawdown that he said would happen. Again, he said what he was going to do and he is doing what he said. The drawdown will begin in July of 2011. That’s what he said in December of ’09 to some skepticism. That is what will happen. And that is the decision -- the size and scope of that drawdown is the only decision on the table.
Q And can I just establish one thing? I apologize if you’ve already said this. But did General Petraeus actually make his recommendation to the President?
MR. CARNEY: What I said last week is that the President had met with and has discussed with General Petraeus the question of the drawdown and has discussed with the general various options for him to look at in terms of the drawdown.
Q It’s not fairly called a recommendation?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think it’s important to note that it’s plural here -- options, not option.
Q Jay, I just want to follow up on remarks that Dan Pfeiffer made last week on the President’s 1996 questionnaire response on marriage. The statement from the President in 1996 reads, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.” Pfeiffer said someone else filled out this questionnaire for the President. Can you confirm that it’s the White House’s position that someone else filled out this questionnaire and that --
Q Chris, I think you know, because you’ve read it multiple times since then, that we’ve corrected beginning Friday that that is not the case, that he was mistaking that with another questionnaire. The President’s position on gay marriage has been clear since ’08; is clear again since he’s been President. So I don’t -- I don’t have any update --
Q But, Jay, can you clarify whether or not the ’96 survey was signed by Obama?
MR. CARNEY: It’s my understanding that it was. I think we clarified on Friday that Dan was referring to another questionnaire.
Q But did the President in fact support same-sex marriage in 1996? Why does he --
MR. CARNEY: Again, what I know is what his position was during the campaign and what it is now, that he’s been very clear about. He was very clear in the campaign. He’s very clear about the fact that his position, that he is -- that it’s evolving. And I really don’t have anything to add to it.
Q On Thursday, the President is attending a LGBT fundraiser in New York, and it’s a state that could have same-sex marriage by the end of this week, it’s very possible. Next week, he’s hosting a Pride reception here at the White House. Isn’t the President selling this audience short by saying he supports them and wants their money for his reelection campaign, but also saying at the same time he does not support their right to marry?
MR. CARNEY: Chris, I think you know that this President is very supportive of and strong on LGBT rights and his record is significant with regard to that. He’s been very clear about his position on gay marriage. He has been very clear about how that position is evolving. I don’t have any new announcement to make. But I think you know his record, and he’s proud of it.
Q Just one quick follow-up question.
MR. CARNEY: Let me get -- okay, one more.
Q You said before you don’t have an update right now on the President’s position on same-sex marriage. But is it possible that the President will come to a conclusion on this evolution by Thursday to make an announcement on --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t anticipate that, Chris.
Q So was Ambassador Eikenberry speaking for the administration when he made those sort of quite passionate comments about Karzai’s remarks? And if Karzai is saying that American forces and other forces pollute Afghanistan, does that not at least complicate the political equation for the President when he’s making decisions about American troop numbers in Afghanistan?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to give you a really -- a different answer than I gave you, which is that we stand by the contributions that the United States is making in Afghanistan -- our civilian personnel and our military personnel -- together, by the way, with a lot of other forces and personnel from other countries who are part of the coalition. The fact is, we understand some of the concerns that President Karzai has raised in the past, and we have worked with him, General Petraeus has worked with him, on addressing issues of civilian casualties. We are -- we take that very seriously.
And then I will add, as I said before, that our objective there is we are in Afghanistan because it is in our national security interest to be there. We are not there for any other reason. And we believe that the objectives that we seek to achieve in Afghanistan are objectives that are also good for the Afghan people and the Afghan government -- the ultimate defeat of al Qaeda, the breaking of the momentum of the Taliban, stabilizing Afghanistan so the Afghan government has enough breathing space to build up its own security forces.
We understand that we have disagreements sometimes, and that we understand that President Karzai and others are sometimes frustrated, and we work with them on that. But we are very proud of the accomplishments that our forces there, both civilian and military, have made.
Q Can I just try one on Russia?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Medvedev told the Financial Times that he hopes the President will be reelected next year. Is --
MR. CARNEY: That President Obama will be?
MR. CARNEY: So do I. (Laughter.)
Q Is the feeling mutual? Does he hope Medvedev will be reelected next year?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on that. (Laughter.) That’s good. That’s clever. I haven’t asked him.
Q Jay --
MR. CARNEY: Let me -- yes, sir.
Q Thank you, Jay. Any reaction to Assad’s speech, the Syrian President, today? And did the President learn anything new that inspires hope that he can still lead political reform?
MR. CARNEY: What we have said and what I will say again today is that what’s required in Syria is action, not words, not promises that reform will come in some period in the future or that dialogue will happen after some review. There needs to be concrete action. There needs to be, first and foremost, a cessation of violence against innocent Syrians. There needs to be actual action towards political dialogue so that this transition to a more democratic Syria can take place.
And as we have said in the past, President Assad needs to either lead that transition or get out of the way, which is not -- I’m not saying the words are meaningless, but he needs to act on them. He needs to actually do something to fulfill the sentiment expressed and the desire for dialogue, because that needs to happen. But first, he needs to stop the violence.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: All right. Thank you all very much.
END 2:51 P.M. EDT
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