Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney
* This common phrase does not appear in the Bible.
12:45 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hi. Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have no announcements to make at the top, so I will go straight to questions.
Q You’ve said that the resolution in Europe should be swift. Does that mean that the President would oppose the referendum in Greece because it could delay the resolution?
MR. CARNEY: We have said, and I’ll say again today, that Europe made some important decisions and we look forward to further elaboration of those decisions and rapid implementation of them.
The events in Greece that you reference only underscore the need for Europe to come together and to unite behind conclusive action that resolves this crisis.
So we would anticipate that this will be a subject of discussion at the G20, to which the President departs this evening. And our goal is for there to be a unanimity of purpose coming out of the G20, which is the preeminent forum -- as this administration desired -- the preeminent forum for these kinds of discussions about the global economy. And clearly Europe is a high priority right now.
Q Will the President at the G20 specifically address the Greek referendum?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he will certainly meet with his counterparts in the G20, including Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron, President Sarkozy and others. And this will certainly be a topic of discussion. I can pretty much predict that with great confidence.
As you know, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy are meeting with Mr. Papandreou today and I don’t want to get out ahead of any outcome of that meeting. But what I fully anticipate is that this will be a focus of the G20 meeting.
Q Okay, and on the President’s speech today, he referenced the House action yesterday on the “In God We Trust” motto and said, “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.” I mean, isn’t it a bit much to bring God into the jobs debate?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I believe the phrase from the Bible* is, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” And I think the point the President is making is that we should -- we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people. And that’s why he’s working so hard to get Congress to take action on the American Jobs Act and the provisions therein. And he -- because he believes it’s in the interest of the American people that that action be taken and certainly believes that Americans who are unemployed, who are looking for work, deserve the attention of Washington, the attention of Congress as well as of the President in their policymaking decisions. It’s a number-one priority for him, getting the economy growing faster and getting the economy creating more jobs.
Now, he was obviously making this particular reference in the context of inaction by the House of Representatives, which has spent time on issues like commemorative Hall of Fame baseball coins and reaffirming a motto that I don’t think anyone doubted, which is that “In God We Trust” is our motto. So his point was simply that the House should get busy with matters of great importance to the United States and to the American people.
Q Jay, what is the White House reaction to Israel’s decision to speed up settlement building? And what impact do you think this could have on the effort to restart the peace process?
MR. CARNEY: Caren, we are deeply disappointed by yesterday’s announcement about accelerated housing construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank. As we have said before, unilateral actions work against efforts to resume direct negotiations and they do not advance the goal of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties. And that’s the only way to achieve the two-state solution that both sides have as their goal with the Palestinians having their own sovereign state and the Israelis having the security that they so deeply deserve.
So any action, as we have said all along, that either side takes that makes it harder rather than easier for the two parties to come together in direct negotiations is something that we oppose, that we think is -- that we are disappointed by. And that would be the case here.
Q On Europe, does the President have to walk a fine line in some respects, in the sense that when Secretary Geithner went over to Europe a few weeks ago and seemed to be offering advice to the Europeans, the reaction among some was, we don’t need your advice, don’t tell us what to do? Does he have to sort of strike a balance there of being helpful, but not appear to be lecturing them or telling them how to get this done?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. We have said that this is a European problem and that the Europeans have both the capacity -- have the capacity to resolve it, the resources necessary to resolve it, and need to take conclusive action to do so. It is also the case that we have a certain amount of experience in making the hard decisions and mustering the political will to take the actions necessary to save our financial system and, in fact, the global financial system, which is what happened in 2008 and 2009.
So we have a role here to play, because of our experience and knowledge and, of course, the fact that we are the largest economy in the world and we can bring to bear insight and experience in a way that really no other nation can. But there’s no question that this is a problem that the Europeans need to solve and that they can solve using the resources that they have available to them.
Q Is that role that you talk about strictly one of advice? Is there anything the United States can or would offer at the G20 to help Greece and to help the package actually underway?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the United States obviously has a great deal of influence because of who we are and the role we play in the global economy, and globally in general. And I would not discount the significance of the experience that we have as -- in terms of its usefulness to the Europeans.
Separately -- well, on the second point, if you’re referring to assistance, as I just stated, the capacity exists; the Europeans have the resources necessary to deal with this. And both through the resources the Europeans have and the IMF, there is what we believe the resources that are necessary for this to be dealt with.
What remains to be done is the further elaboration and rapid implementation of the kinds of decisions that were made last week by European leaders.
Q Anything on the dinner tonight that Vice President Biden is holding with Mr. Cantor? Could that be a working session?
MR. CARNEY: If I weren’t flying to the G20 tonight, I might invite myself to come along. (Laughter.) But the fact is -- and I can’t remember if we discussed this or not, if I did from the podium -- that the Vice President and Congressman Cantor, I think fair to say, developed a close relationship during their prolonged negotiations earlier this year. You have to remember that, at least in the case of the Vice President, he was a senator for 36 years, and he began service in the Senate at a time where relations between members were, I think it’s fair to say, much more collegial. And he remembers that time fondly, and he certainly believes that any restoration of that kind of collegial atmosphere serves a greater purpose.
So he -- my understanding is that this is something that the two gentlemen had wanted to do for some time, and they finally got it on the schedule.
Q Congress still has about eight appropriations bills left to do, but the CR runs out in about two weeks. Would you support a longer-term CR to get that done, get that work done?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you on that. We want to let Congress do its job. We’re focused on creating jobs right now. And we’re obviously engaged in that process. But I don’t have anything specific to say about how Congress will fulfill its responsibility.
Q Do you have anything specific to say about the work of the super committee in the wake of its public hearing yesterday, and in the wake of many outsiders who say that even $1.2 trillion isn’t going to solve the problem?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President definitely believes, Bill, that Congress can and should do more. When he put his proposals forward at the very beginning of this process, there was a reason that they amounted to such a significantly higher number in savings, deficit reduction, because he believes that that’s the kind of figure you need to shoot for if you want to reach a solution to this problem in the near term, near and medium term.
And that $3 trillion, $4 trillion goal that is manifested in the President’s proposal reflects a similar belief that bipartisan commissions who have looked at this problem have reached.
So what is also true is that Congress’s mandate is to reach a certain threshold. The President has put forward his proposals. He certainly hopes that as the committee does its work it takes into account what he believes is essential, which is that any outcome here needs to be balanced so that the burden of reducing our deficit is not borne by seniors or others in our society who are struggling; that everyone pays their fair share. So we’ll see how the committee carries on.
Q Any guidance or push from here?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the guidance and push comes in the form of the very detailed proposal the President put forward. I mean, as I think I’ve said before, the solutions here are not that complicated. It’s not -- it takes political will.
Q Are they talking -- are people here talking to members of the super committee?
MR. CARNEY: We at different levels here in the White House discuss actions in Congress all the time. But this is a congressionally created committee with congressional membership, no seats at the table for members of the administration. The President, at the beginning of the process, put forward very clearly his proposal, publicly did it in hopes that the committee takes it up. Certainly, if they took it up and passed it and it emerged out of Congress as he wrote it, I guarantee you he’d sign it. But we’ll have to see how Congress, and this committee in particular, fulfills its mandate.
Let me go to the back there. Yes, in the yellow tie.
Q Yes, could you address the attacks you’ve gotten from Speaker Boehner, Mitch McConnell, that the White House has been off and the President been off campaigning and having all these campaign events instead of staying in Washington and digging down into the legislative process on these jobs bills, on the super committee?
MR. CARNEY: As I’ve said many times before, the President is out talking to the American people, hearing from them and explaining to them his ideas for moving this country forward, growing the economy and creating jobs. Well, one of the reasons he’s doing it -- and we’re being very transparent about it -- is because he understands that there is resistance among Republicans to actually addressing the number-one priority, the need to grow the economy and create jobs, and that he doesn’t think that Republicans will listen to him if he stands in a room and tells them how important it is to do this. But he does think that they might listen to their own constituents. And that is why he is calling on Americans around the country, and certainly in the states and cities and towns and rural areas that he’s visited recently, to let their voices be heard, to make sure that their congressmen, their senators understand how essential they believe it is that Congress get off the dime and take action on their urgent priority of growing the economy and creating jobs.
As I’ve said before, the Republicans may refer to this as campaigning. The President would be delighted to be deprived of the opportunity of having to make this pitch if it meant that Congress actually acted and passed the American Jobs Act, and did it in a way that paid for it so there’s no adding to the deficit, not a dime, and paying for it in a way that’s widely supported by the American people.
Again, poll after poll demonstrates this to be true -- not just Democrats, but independents and Republicans as well. There’s not a lot of complexity here. As the President has shown, because he has worked with Republicans in Congress on the free trade agreements, on the TAA, on patent reform, on the 3 percent withholding, which is working its way through Congress -- and we support repeal of that provision, which was passed into law in the previous administration and voted for by Republican leaders, but we agree should be repealed -- where we can find common ground and work together this President is very eager to do so, especially where it has a positive impact on growth and jobs.
But there is clear and obvious resistance in the Senate so far, because that’s where the votes have taken place, to the kind of common-sense, middle-of-the-road solutions to our economic challenges that have been supported by Republicans in the past. One of the reasons that they’ve put forward for opposing them, even though they’re the kinds of things they’ve supported in the past, is because they don’t think millionaires and billionaires in this country should pay a little extra so that our economy can grow and more Americans can go back to work.
Now, that’s a position that they can take, it just happens not to be supported by a broad majority of Americans -- and, I suspect, not supported by a majority of the constituents that members of the Republican Party represent. So that’s the debate we’re having. And the President is taking that debate out into the country on these trips and discussing it with -- presenting his ideas to Americans in a variety of ways, including through the regional television interviews he did from here yesterday, because he feels so passionately that that’s the right thing to do.
So we hope that as we move along, the Senate, as you know, is going to put forward the -- and vote on the provision from the jobs act on infrastructure. Infrastructure used to be something that Republicans and Democrats supported in a broad bipartisan coalition. Hopefully that will be the case in the Senate, and hopefully the House will begin to take up some of these measures.
As we go through this process, the President remains hopeful that enough Republicans will vote for them so that we can take the measures necessary to put Americans back to work, because what remains true -- and I believe the Speaker of the House may have said something about this earlier today, about measures that he has deemed job-creating measures that he believes should be acted on, and I would just point you to the assessment of outside independent analysts, economic analysts, about their so-called jobs plan. And even if you believe that the ideas contained within their jobs plan are good ones and merited, they do not address the near-term economic need that we have. They do not grow the economy in the short term. They do not create jobs in the short term.
And in case of the Senate economic plan, jobs plan that was put forward, I believe it was Macroeconomic Advisers said that if it were implemented right away, including the balanced budget amendment, it would cost millions of jobs. I don’t believe that’s what the American people are looking for Congress to do.
Q The President has been meeting with Democratic leaders yesterday and today. He hasn’t brought the Republican leadership up here. He hasn’t called for, for example, a jobs summit, which Lindsey Graham said would be a great idea. Why not engage the Republicans more directly instead of just going out and holding campaign events and throwing up bills that you know -- everybody knows this infrastructure bill is going to die in the Senate tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I’ve said before, the President has in the past, I think, as you know -- I assume you, as well as many others in here know -- met with Republican leaders at great length and on many occasions this year. And I’m sure he will continue to do so in the coming months and years of his presidency.
The fact of the matter is, this is -- again, we constructed, he constructed the jobs act and made sure it was filled with provisions that had historically garnered Republican support because he wanted it to pass. I don’t think there’s a constituency larger -- much larger than the population of this room who would support the idea that what America needs right now is for another meeting to be held in the Cabinet Room when the solutions to our problems are so clear.
And I’m not precluding further meetings on important issues, because there will be. But when it comes to job creation, again, it’s just not that complicated. If you want to grow the economy in the short term, you want to take measures, and you want to do it in a way that’s paid for, doesn’t add to the deficit, the American Jobs Act is the answer.
Provisions that -- ideas that Republicans or others in Congress have that answer the mail with regard to near-term economic growth and job creation, this President is very eager to look at and consider, as long as they’re paid for and as long as they’re paid for in a way that’s fair.
Q Jay, when you were saying Republican -- the Republican plan does not create jobs in the short term, God has not issued a verdict on the jobs bill yet as far as we know, but the Congressional Budget Office has, and Republicans like to point out that on the infrastructure piece that’s being debated in the Senate now, CBO says that the majority of the projects would be spent out in 2017. And so when the President goes to the Key Bridge today and says you’ve got to pass this so we can act now, isn’t this in fact something that’s going to take a few years to create jobs on?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I believe -- I’m not sure about the CBO report and if that’s referring to the infrastructure portion of the jobs act or the broader infrastructure surface transportation bill, because the infrastructure portion of the jobs act is targeted for projects that can be implemented in the short term.
There’s no question that they extend -- will jobs be created because of the jobs act if it’s passed beyond 2012? Yes, indeed, and we think that’s a good thing, too. And I think as the President mentioned today at Key Bridge, if the infrastructure bill were passed out of the Senate, out of the House and signed into law, that it would allow that project to be sped up and begin creating jobs in 2013.
Again, the purpose of the jobs act is to have the most immediate near-term impact, and near-term certainly means both 2012 and 2013, but also positive job impact in the future.
But, again, the concentration is in the near term.
Q The G20 -- just to push it one step further, the questions you got before when you were trying to walk a balance here, there’s a narrative that’s developing -- it might be a wrong narrative -- but that China has got a lot more clout going to the table at G20, they have an open checkbook, and that the President is kind of going empty-handed, because you were talking before about you can bring experience to the table from the 2008 crisis, but that you don’t -- the U.S. doesn’t have the money right now to go in and help with a bailout. So is the President going from a position of weakness?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. The United States is still the largest economy in the world. It is still the most powerful nation in terms of its alliances and its influence around the world. And that influence comes in a variety of ways, including the wealth of experience that we have. So I would not discount the importance of that with regard to this.
But the focus here is not on whether or not the Chinese involve themselves financially. I mean, that really is a sideshow to the focus here. The focus here is a European problem that requires a European solution for which the Europeans have the resources and capacity necessary, and that requires the kind of political will that would allow for the rapid implementation of the necessary solutions.
We have some experience with making tough decisions in the face of financial and economic instability. And I think that that experience is valuable to those having to make these decisions in Europe.
Q The last thing is you framed the jobs debate moving forward into 2012. In one of the interviews, regional interviews the President did yesterday, he said the American people are better off because of his policies, because he prevented a lot of worse things that could have happened. You’ve said that before. October 3rd though, I think it was in the ABC interview, he was asked that directly, and he said the American people are not better off.
MR. CARNEY: He was asked are they better off than they were four years ago, okay? Four years ago is the summer -- or the late summer/early fall of 2007, before the economy collapsed, before the financial crisis. So I think it is a statement of fact that unemployment wasn’t as high, that the economy hadn’t begun to contract.
What is also true is that when this President took office in January of 2009, the economy was in freefall. We had contracted. The economy shrank, as we know now, by almost 9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, the final quarter of President Bush’s time in office. We were shedding jobs at a rate of up to almost 800,000 a month. I mean, that’s an extraordinary amount of job loss. The recession took an 8 million job toll on employment in this country.
All of those factors obviously were felt by our economy and our country before this President’s policies were either debated or passed or signed into law, let alone had a chance to take effect. So what this President did was make some very difficult decisions, decisions that weren’t wholly popular -- politically popular at the time -- including bailing out and holding accountable the American automobile industry, including saving the financial system from collapse not because to reward the financial sector, but because a financial collapse would have had a terrible impact on the overall American economy and on American workers.
So since those policies began to take effect, the decline in our GDP was halted and reversed. And the job loss was halted and reversed. It has not been nearly enough, but it is simply a matter of fact, according to the statistics provided by the BLS, that we have now created over or close to 2.5 million private sector jobs in the last however many months. We’re still seeing public sector job loss -- largely teachers -- which is one of the reasons why the President feels so strongly that we ought to, through the American Jobs Act, put teachers back to work educating our children.
But we have a long way to go. There is much work to be done and this President has the stamina and the vision about where this economy needs to go. And he is presenting his ideas to Congress and to the American people to do just that.
Voice of America.
Q Jay, there’s been more than the usual amount of buzz in the Israeli press about the Iran nuclear issue. You probably saw the reports about decisions or discussion or debate that took place -- or didn’t take place or whatever -- in the Israeli cabinet. Can you give us a sense of what the degree of concern here is about a potential unilateral strike by Israel? Has there been an assurance -- has the President received an assurance that this wouldn’t happen? When is the last time he spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu?
There’s also been an Israeli missile test today and there were some Israeli drills with NATO and Italy. So all this is coming together and it’s raising some big questions.
MR. CARNEY: Let me go to the start of your question, which referred to buzz, rumors, decisions that may or may not have been made -- debates that may or may not have been had. I’m not going to respond to that kind of speculation. We are very focused on the threat that Iran poses and the fact that Iran has not upheld its responsibilities with regards to international commitments, specifically its nuclear program. And we are very focused on that.
And we have, through the actions that we’ve taken -- this administration has taken -- have isolated Iran through sanctions and other actions to the point where I believe the president of Iran himself recently conceded that those sanctions are having dramatic negative impact on their economy. We remain focused on a diplomatic channel here, a diplomatic course in terms of dealing with Iran.
Q Has the President spoken to Netanyahu lately?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. In recent days, obviously, they met at the U.N. But I have no conversations to report in recent days.
Q A quick follow up, if I could. On the Iran Threat Reduction Act that the House Foreign Affairs Committee took action on, what’s the administration’s position on that legislation as it moves through?
MR. CARNEY: You know what, I don’t have a position to enunciate. I haven’t seen it yet.
Dan, and then Stephen.
Q To follow on the question from Erica, the President invoking God, a House Republican aide said that the baseball and “In God We Trust” were procedural matters that took less than 20 minutes or so. And, again, this person pointing out that they have these 20 bills that they’ve passed that will create jobs.
MR. CARNEY: The number keeps increasing. I thought it was 15.
Q Fifteen or 20 -- 15 to 20 is the number. But is that a fair jab from the President?
MR. CARNEY: I think the other day, when they were dealing with the commemorative coin bill, I might have read or I think I read the agenda for the day, which was quite anemic and included that. And whether it took 20 minutes or not, the fact is they were out of town by 3:00 p.m.
The point the President is making broadly is that, I mean, if not for the President’s insistence on pushing the American Jobs Act, would we be having a debate about jobs and the economy right now in Washington or would Congress be -- or the Republicans in Congress be so divorced from the reality that Americans are encountering every day that they would be debating matters wholly unrelated to the primary concerns of the American people?
I think that’s possible. I mean, I know that Democrats would be out there pushing this and certainly the President is. His point merely is that the House of Representatives hasn’t even voted on the American Jobs Act, refuses to put forward provisions of the American Jobs Act thus far. And while they can talk about their 15, 20 -- 50 for all I know, I believe it’s 15 -- measures that they call job producers, don’t take my word for it. Ask economists about whether they will have an impact, a positive impact on the economy or job creation in the near term.
They could argue that the long-term reforms will have impacts -- deregulation, cutting taxes, cutting waste, cutting spending, cutting regulations -- and maybe that is the answer, although we’ve seen that movie before and it lead, in part, to the economic crisis we were just talking about. But even if that’s the right policy -- and we dispute much of that -- it won’t have a positive impact even by their own measure or the outside economists’ measure or judgment in the next couple years.
Well, I don’t think the American people can wait. I don’t think at 9.1 percent unemployment they expect Congress to be dealing with matters only that will have a positive effect on their lives in 2014, if at all. So, yes, I think it’s a fair jab, if I do say so myself.
Q Another question on Europe. Is it possible for the U.S. economy to have a sustained, healthy recovery if the European situation is not stabilized?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are the largest and most powerful economy in the world. There is that fact. But we are also part of the global economy. And one thing that is abundantly clear, I think, for any of us who have been watching it this year is that there are things that happen to the global economy that have effects on the American economy, negative effects like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, like the upheaval in the Middle East that affected global oil markets, like the crisis and instability in the eurozone. That’s just a reality that this country and every country has to deal with.
Now, we have tremendous capacities and resources of our own. We also have the ability to take care of the things that we can control, the ability to take the measures necessary -- even the tough political measures necessary -- to reverse catastrophic economic contraction that we were faced with in early 2009; to reverse the massive job loss that we were faced with in early 2009; to prevent the collapse of the financial sector; to make a very difficult, bold decision to save the American automobile industry, to save the more than a million jobs affiliated with that industry, because this President didn’t believe that we should just cede that industry to our global competitors in the 21st century and just accept the fact that we were going to buy cars for the rest of eternity from the rest of the world.
In the present tense, that means that we should do the things that we can control. We should take action to grow our economy, create jobs, and take action to address our medium- and long-term deficit and debt challenge. The President has put forward plans for both of those. As of yet, the Republicans have yet to put forward a plan to deal with our near-term challenges.
Q Well, I guess what I’m asking, even with all of that --
MR. CARNEY: That didn’t answer your question? (Laughter.)
Q Going back to what I said initially, though, even with all of that, if the European situation is not stabilized, won’t it continue to be a drag on any kind of recovery?
MR. CARNEY: There are all sorts of headwinds that exist or could potentially exist for the American economy, which is why we have to take the measures we can to strengthen it so that we can power through the challenges that exist out there. Now, it’s very important that the Europeans take the conclusive actions that’s necessary to deal with this crisis, obviously for their own sake. But our interest is not entirely altruistic. It’s also because we are a very important part of the global economy and it affects our economy. But we need to take the action that we can, that we can control to strengthen our economy, put our people back to work.
Q Just a quick follow-up, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: One second, Goyal. Yes.
Q Jay, earlier you were talking about the meeting with the Vice President and the Majority Leader. And you harkened back, as we often hear in Washington, to the days when Republicans and Democrats would go out and have a drink and everybody got along. And sure, they’d fight it out on the floor, but it was much more civil back then.
Do I take from that that it -- the upshot of this dinner tonight could be more cooperation between the Majority Leader’s office? It sounds more transactional, whereas Cantor’s office is saying it’s a completely social visit.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no. It is a completely -- it is a social visit.
Q They’re friends.
MR. CARNEY: They have a good relationship -- and I’ve spoken with the Vice President about this -- and they developed a good relationship during the course of their many negotiations. So it’s a social visit.
I’m not -- it’s hard to imagine they won’t talk some business, but maybe they’ll talk sports, I don’t know. But the point is, is that that kind of atmosphere, where the communications aren’t solely held through either negotiations over policy or in back-and-forths on cable shows, has, in the past in our history been conducive to more cooperation on the issues that Americans most care about.
I don’t think anybody is holding out hope that one dinner is going to change the atmosphere in Washington, but I think it is important to remember that we’re all humans here, we’re all -- everybody is a son or a daughter or a mother or father, brother or sister, that they’re -- and they’re here to -- elected by, in terms of the elected officials, that they’re sent here by their constituents to do the work that their constituents wanted done. And hopefully they’re mindful of that as they press on with the business of the day.
But, yes, it’s a social meeting.
Q Another thing you often hear in town is that given the option to kick the can down the road, Congress will kick the can down the road. Now, November 23rd is the deadline to avoid the triggers, but the triggers themselves don’t kick in until 2013 is my understanding.
So is the real deadline 2013? I mean they have all next year to straighten this thing out. The defense budget and Medicare don’t get cut until after the election.
MR. CARNEY: I mean, you describe the mechanisms that are in place --
Q Right. And --
MR. CARNEY: -- through the legislation.
Q -- that’s the deadline. November 23rd really isn’t the deadline.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it is a deadline for the committee to report. And my understanding is if it doesn’t, then --
Q Sequestration or triggers or whatever you call it --
MR. CARNEY: Right. Going in --
Q -- don’t kick in for a year.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think they kick in but they don’t begin to take effect for a year. Now, you’re asking me will Congress -- if this were to come to pass and how Congress would react next year, I would hesitate to speculate on that.
I think that the -- as we’ve seen discussed by I believe members of both parties, the sequestration part of this is onerous enough to hopefully compel Congress to act. And that was the purpose of it, so that it wasn’t an acceptable outcome, and that therefore Congress would do the right thing and make some hard political choices and come up with a balanced approach to deficit and debt reduction that could clear Congress and be signed by the President.
So hopefully they’ll do that.
Q The Arab League says that Syria has now accepted its plan to end the violence in full. Has this been communicated to the White House? And would it be fair to say that any resolution to this that leaves Assad in power would not be acceptable to the United States?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know about any communications, but I will say that our position remains that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down.
We support all international efforts that are aimed towards convincing the regime from -- to stop attacking its own people and perpetrating violence against its own people. But our position on Assad has not changed.
Q Two questions. First of all, on the Keystone Pipeline, you have said and others have said that this is a decision that the State Department would make. But in an interview yesterday, President Obama seemed to suggest that the State Department would report to him and then he would make the decision.
So I just want to clarify where is the final decision-making on this?
MR. CARNEY: What the President said yesterday is wholly consistent with the process that we’ve described and exists by executive order, and which has actually been followed for decades by presidents of both parties in cases like this.
The review of this decision is housed at the State Department by executive order because of all the considerations that have to be taken, have to be reviewed. It is also the case that -- and that process will move forward. And it is not done in a vacuum. The process itself requires consultation with a variety of executive branch agencies, as well as input from stakeholders and public comment. And that process is ongoing.
It is also true that this is the Obama administration, and we certainly don’t expect, and the President doesn’t expect, and you should not expect, that the ultimate outcome of this process will do anything but reflect the President’s views.
Q So ultimately he does make the decision?
MR. CARNEY: Well, ultimately it’s his administration, and the process is run -- he is not running the process. The State Department is running the process, and it comes up with a determination. But all of the criteria the President cited in that same interview yesterday about -- that have to be considered -- and that’s public health, national security, jobs and the economy -- all of these criteria he expects to be considered as part of this process, he knows will be considered, and he certainly -- you can expect that the decision that is reached will reflect his views.
Q But just from a technical point of view, is the way this works that the State Department undertakes this review, takes all those things into consideration, consults with -- widely, and then makes a recommendation to the President who ultimately signs off on it or not? Is that accurate?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s his administration. So I don’t think you’d see a situation where a decision is made by his administration that he doesn’t support.
Q Not all decisions get -- reach the President.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I can assure you that this decision, that this determination, will reflect the President’s views. And I think that’s what he was expressing yesterday.
Q Okay. The second thing is that the sort of progressive activists and voters have been feeling a lot better about the White House, I think it’s fair to say, in the last couple months, as you’ve talked about jobs and investments rather than cutting the deficits.
I’m wondering if there’s any concern that, as -- if the super committee reports, and if it does, in fact, what the White House has asked, which is put forward a bold plan that does include those elements that some in the President’s base were never happy about, if that sort of ground that you’ve gained with important people in the President’s constituency could be lost again.
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that the proposal he put forward to the super committee, which contains entitlement reforms as well as revenue increases and other forms of deficit reduction, is the right way to go. Are there political challenges contained within an approach like that? Absolutely -- for both parties. But that is the point about balance here.
And so if the super committee were to take up his recommendations, he would be very glad indeed, and he would sign it.
Carrie, and then Mark.
Q Super committee question. Can you explain why the White House has taken more of a hands-off approach to this process, versus over the summer? Just what is the thinking about just -- I know you’re getting briefings. I know you’ve talked to members. But it’s not that kind of intense involvement we’ve seen in the past.
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. The circumstances are quite different. There wasn’t a process that existed in the summer as there exists now, congressionally -- mandated by law, set up by Congress, consisting of members of Congress and a special committee.
Secondly, there was the threat of default on our obligations that was -- should never have been the case, but which was made part of that process by an element of one party in Congress that wanted to use that threat to push its ideological agenda. The President took the seriousness of that threat -- took that threat very seriously, and it was absolutely his responsibility to ensure that we did not default, for the first time in our history, on our obligations.
This is a different situation. That threat has been removed, thanks to the President’s insistence, and -- is that the weather you have there on that iPhone? (Laughter.) Sorry. Very -- says it’s 57 degrees outside. Sorry. (Laughter.) New glasses, right? I can see. (Laughter.)
Where was I? That threat no longer exists because the President absolutely drew a line in the sand and said this cannot happen again.
Q So the stakes are lower this time --
MR. CARNEY: Well, there is not the kind of threat that default represented.
Secondarily, I would say that the President, at the beginning of this process rather than -- well, at the beginning of this process put forward, very explicitly and in great detail, his ideas, his proposal for dealing with our deficit and debt challenges in the medium and long term. And as you know, in the process that was conducted this summer there were, well, a variety of difference mechanisms at work. But one of them included very quiet negotiations with the Speaker of the House where, much to the frustration of some, plans were not made public, proposals were not put on the table, accusations were leveled that their President didn’t have a plan, even though there were stacks of paper involved in negotiations that represented very much what the Speaker of the House and the President were discussing in the hopes of reaching what was called at the time a grand bargain, which would require the kind of quiet negotiations so that both the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States could walk out of the room together and say, this is where we have to go; it’s hard for both of our parties, but it’s the right thing to do.
The President very much believed that that was worth trying for. He also believed that the Speaker thought so, too. In the end, it was not politically possible for the Speaker to do it.
This is different. The President has put forward his proposals. There’s a congressional process in place. He certainly hopes that this bipartisan committee will make the right choices, follow the template that he’s laid out in terms of balance -- that he and bipartisan commissions have laid out, and that he will have the opportunity of signing a piece of legislation that codifies the kind of broad-based balanced deficit and debt reduction come the end of the year.
Q How will he balance the next few weeks, particularly with him being overseas for the 10 days before the deadline? Does he see any -- does the White House see any peril in that? How will he balance the two, and is there any chance that --
MR. CARNEY: Well, two things.
Q -- he changes his travel because of it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would not anticipate any changes in his travel plans. I mean, the President -- the conferences that the President is attending here are actually very related to the global economy. In the case of the G20, as we’ve discussed, there’s issues on the table here that have a direct effect on the American economy, a capacity for the American economy to grow and create jobs. The Asia-Pacific economic conference, as well as the East Asia summit -- these have to do with, very much, our capacity to trade, to increase our exports, to grow the economy here and create jobs.
So these -- there are strong economic components to both of these trips. And he is, as President of the United States, obligated to travel around the world and represent American interests abroad at these gatherings. So it is also true that he is fully capable, wherever he is, of exercising his authority and engaging with his staff here, with the administration, with members of Congress from abroad.
Paula. Oh, Mark. Sorry. I did say Mark next, then Paula.
Q Jay, it’s been nearly two months since President Obama unveiled his jobs bill. He’s given, by my count, 27 speeches, gone to eight states with it. At what point --
MR. CARNEY: Where do you get those numbers? (Laughter.)
Q Everybody uses them. They must be right.
MR. CARNEY: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q At what point does the President acknowledge that he’s got a stalemate that he’s dealing with, and it’s time to try something else or reach out to work out a deal that doesn’t yet exist?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he’ll never acknowledge that more cannot be done or should not be done by Congress on jobs and the economy. Never. He will continue to press Congress to take up the provisions of the American Jobs Act in the Senate, as Senator Reid has said the Senate will, and hope and pray that -- referring again to the Almighty -- that the House will feel pressure enough from its constituents -- that House Republicans will do the same.
Now, I do not believe, or I find it hard to believe, we find it hard to believe that Congress will do nothing before the end of the year on the jobs act, and specifically on provisions that would help the economy grow, put money in Americans’ pockets. It would defy all of my years of experience covering and now working in this field, given where the public is.
So I certainly would be surprised if Republicans in Congress followed the lead of some Republican presidential contenders and decided that extending the payroll tax is not the right thing to do. That would mean a tax hike on every American who gets a paycheck next year. As a purely political consideration, I think that would be a very bad idea on their part. I’d be surprised if they went there.
So we’ll see where this ends up. The President will not rest until he believes every American who is looking for a job can find one, that the economy is growing sufficiently, and that our economic foundation is strong enough to allow us to compete and win the 21st century the way we won the 20th.
Q The deficit reduction plan the President put forward you’ve noted is in the same range as Erskine-Bowles and Rivlin and Domenici. But they’re arguing that if you don’t do one to that scale that you basically will have dire economic consequences, not unlike what you were facing back in August. So does the President share that view?
MR. CARNEY: Well, all the more reason for Congress to act.
Q Well, but if it is that dire economic consequence, why wouldn’t the President insert himself into this like he did back in August?
MR. CARNEY: He has. What I love is when he was having these secret negotiations that we weren’t talking about with John Boehner, everybody was asking me, why isn’t the President inserting himself, right? Where’s his plan? Okay, so he was obviously intimately engaged in a process that he hoped would lead to comprehensive deficit and debt reduction, balanced in a way that would not overly burden any sector of American society. And in this process, he has put forward a plan.
Because, again, none of this stuff is rocket science. It’s not that complicated what the elements have to be. As you can see from his proposals, as you can see from the Simpson-Bowles commission’s proposals, the Rivlin-Domenici proposals, they have a familiar sound to them because what you have to do here is pretty clear. What it takes is political will. What it takes is a willingness, as we see it, of Republicans to accept the fact that it is only fair and right that the wealthiest Americans bear some of the burden here of reducing our deficit and getting our long-term debt under control, and listen to their constituents instead of to Grover Norquist about what the right priorities here are.
So he is engaged. He put his cards on the table with his proposal, and he certainly hopes that Congress takes up that proposal. And if, as I was asked before, they act on it and they present him with something that reflects the balance that he believes is necessary, I’m sure he’ll sign it.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, last one. And then -- I’m sorry, then I’ll do Kate, too. But, yes.
Q I don’t know how these two events work on Mark’s list of numbers, but contrasting yesterday’s event about Fort Monroe with today’s event at the Key Bridge, both of them are job-creating numbers, yet the President was riding a van in Virginia -- or a bus in Virginia --
MR. CARNEY: That was a hell of a big van, right? (Laughter.)
Q Bus. There wasn’t a big event there, but yet there were 3,000 jobs, according to the President. So why the difference in level of importance in terms of the public event? Is it because Key Bridge is contentious and Fort Monroe isn’t? Or why the difference?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll try to process the question. Look, he will do different events around different proposals, or he’ll make announcements or we’ll put out paper. I mean, it’s just going to depend on his schedule and the size and significance of the proposal.
But I have said before, he will do everything within his power and his executive authority, broad measures that can help hundreds of thousands or millions of Americans, smaller measures that can only affect -- help a smaller number of Americans. He will do it all.
And in terms of the events that may be built around the announcement, those depend on a lot of factors, including travel, scheduling and the like.
So I don’t really have anything more than a broad answer to that question. But he’ll push them all. And they’re all important, because there is no silver bullet solution to our economic challenges. There’s no one piece of legislation -- not even the American Jobs Act alone solves our economic challenges, and the jobs act is made up of many different provisions.
He’ll do everything he can -- through Congress, through legislative proposals, through executive authority -- small measures, medium measures, large measures -- to help the American people economically, put them back to work, grow the economy, assist them with scarce drugs or refinancing their mortgages or students dealing with the burden of loan obligations.
You can expect that he’ll continue to do as much as he can in all the variety of ways open to him to pursue this agenda.
Q Just to go back to Keystone, so we can expect the decision is going to come out of the State Department, but it will reflect it actually getting to the President’s desk and him looking at it?
And then also, on the Nebraska interview yesterday, he said that jobs created by the Keystone oil pipeline wouldn’t be worth the health and safety consequences if there was a spill that would contaminate the water supplies. So what kind of surveys are being done by the EPA? Can you talk a little bit about the process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the process is being run out of the State Department, and that process, by mandate, includes input from a variety of different executive branch agencies, as well as from the public, as well as from other stakeholders. And that’s required. So this is not something that State Department is doing in a vacuum at all. It reflects the input of experts from across the administration and stakeholders and folks in the public who are interested and have views on this across the country. So all of those factors will go into the review that the State Department is undertaking.
As for the process, I mean, the timing of it, I’d refer you to the State Department. As I just said before -- I’ll just reiterate -- this is the President’s administration, the State Department is part of the Obama administration, and you can expect that the ultimate outcome of this process will reflect the President’s views.
Thanks very much.
Q Week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: It’s Wednesday. Trick. (Laughter.)
END 1:40 P.M. EDT
January 25, 2015
January 25, 2015
January 24, 2015
January 24, 2015
January 23, 2015
January 23, 2015
January 23, 2015
January 22, 2015