Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/9/12
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:56 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the White House for your daily briefing. I hope you enjoyed the Easter weekend, those of you who celebrate it. And if you got out to see the spectacle on the South Lawn, you can see why it works best when the weather is fine -- (laughter) -- as it is today.
I don't have any announcements at the top, so I will go straight to questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two questions on North Korea. (Phone rings.)
MR. CARNEY: Whoa. (Laughter.) For the record, that was Jake Tapper's phone.
Q It’s the Wonder Woman theme song for when my wife calls. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: That's awesome.
Q You want me to start again?
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q Cell phone on silent.
MR. CARNEY: I like that. I like that a lot.
Okay, Ben Feller from the Associated Press will lead us off with questions.
Q Jay, I have two questions on North Korea. It looks like the final stages of the rocket has been moved into place for that potential launch. There's also signs that North Korea is preparing for a third nuclear test. The President spoke particularly about the rocket launch in South Korea, and asked the leadership in North Korea to stop and try to bring pressure to bear. But since both of these provocative steps are moving ahead, can you see any signs of progress from the world community in halting North Korea's behavior?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you're right that we view the potential rocket launch as a very provocative act that would be, if it were conducted, done in direct violation of North Korea's international obligations. Any further testing, underground testing, would be a provocative action. And to your point, because we judge North Korea by its actions, in each case this would be an indication of North Korea's decision, at the leadership level, not to take the steps that are necessary to allow North Korea to end its isolation, to rejoin the community of nations, and to do something about the extreme poverty and deprivation that its people suffer from because of the nature of the system that they live under and the isolation that they've brought on themselves.
Q Well, I mean, are you seeing any signs, though, that there's anything that can be done to affect their behavior? Because it appears clear from the President's statements they'll lose the food aid. But is there any other carrot or stick that the U.S. has available?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we continue to work with our international partners on this issue broadly, as well as specific partners, like the Chinese. As you know, when the President met with President Hu in Seoul they discussed North Korea and discussed the influence that China has on the North Koreans. So we will continue to work with all of our partners. We will continue to do the things that we have been doing in the past to isolate and pressure North Korea, and make clear to North Korea that its -- the only path to a better future for that country and its people is to take the actions necessary to demonstrate that the country is willing to live up to its international obligations and rejoin the community of nations.
Q Jay, in Syria today the government forces killed 30 people in a bombardment of a single town, and this is the day after Assad's government demanded written assurances from the rebels that they would lay down their arms. What, if any, hope does the administration have that Assad will comply with his pledge of a troop pullout from major population centers? Or does the administration consider this deal dead at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the international community, including obviously the United States, is unanimous in its support for special envoy Kofi Annan's mission to bring an end to the violence and begin a Syrian-led political process toward democracy. The deadline, as you know, for the Syrians to begin their military -- or rather to end their military withdrawal is April 10th. So we will see what happens come April 10th, and we will look to Kofi Annan to make an assessment on the behavior by the Syrian regime. We condemn all of the attacks that have been launched, the brutal violence against the Syrian people, and we certainly have seen no signs yet of the Assad regime abiding by its commitments, which is obviously quite unfortunate.
Q One other question related to the statement just made by President Rousseff in the Oval Office. She said that she raised with President Obama Brazil’s concerns about U.S. expansionary monetary policy and how that affects developing economies like Brazil’s. And can you tell us what the President’s response was to that? And does he worry at all about the unintended consequences of U.S. policy either by the Fed or the by government itself on the developing world?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have anything specifically for you with regards to monetary policy, as you might expect. I would note simply that we have an important relationship with Brazil that I think was demonstrated by both this visit and the President’s visit last year to Brazil. And one, I think, indication of the importance that we place on that relationship are the steps that we’ve taken with regards to tourism to make it easier for Brazilians to visit the United States and a variety of other kinds of agreements that we have with the Brazilians. I would refer you to the Treasury Department and the Fed for questions about monetary policy.
Q -- Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Can I -- let me get to you. Let me get through the first few people here.
Jake and then Jessica.
Q On Iran and the Saturday meeting with the P5-plus-1. Iran has said that they reject preconditions for the meeting. Will the meeting go ahead even with Iran rejecting preconditions?
MR. CARNEY: There are not -- the meeting, we look forward to, and we believe it’s important that this meeting takes place in Istanbul. What we’ve agreed to is to launch a new round of talks and we’re pleased that these talks are happening. And the talks -- at the talks, we will obviously, as will our partners, address the international community’s concerns with Iranian behavior regarding their nuclear program.
We’re looking forward to these talks creating if -- a conducive environment for concrete progress. We are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran needs to take steps to demonstrate that they, in a verifiable way, do not want to and will not pursue the acquiring of a nuclear weapon. So we’re not drawing lines in the sand here about -- before the meeting takes place, but we are very clear-eyed about what Iran needs to do in order to fulfill its international obligations and be able to reassure the international community that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. And that is the crux of the problem. Regardless of what the Iranians have said about what their intentions are, no one on the international stage has faith in those assurances. So we need concrete steps taken by the Iranians to assure that they will forsake their nuclear ambitions -- weapons ambitions.
Q And with Afghanistan and the night raids, can you precisely explain what the U.S. has agreed to in Afghanistan?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. There is a memo of understanding, which General Allen signed and presided over, that is this product of a negotiation with the Afghan leadership that allows us to go forward with our plans for transitioning to Afghan security lead. This was an issue of particular interest and concern on the part of the Afghans, And what this will do, it will ensure that the Afghan forces have the lead in so-called night raids. As you know and have reported on, the night raids are a source of concern for the Afghans. We understand that and we have worked out an agreement that we think is very important that will allow necessary actions to continue to take place as we implement our policy. It will also allow us to move forward on the Strategic Partnership declaration and will allow us to move forward on the overall strategy in place, which includes a drawing down of U.S. forces as we transition to Afghan security lead.
Q And there are exceptions to the rule, right, when it comes to Afghans taking the lead on the night raids?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the Defense Department for the specifics, but I think that the Afghans will have the lead in the night raids. We will ensure that -- part of the importance of this agreement is to put it in place so that we can continue to move forward on all the other aspects of implementing the mission.
Q This week, the White House is making a big push for the Congress to pass the Buffett Rule, a measure the President has been pushing for something like this since the fall of last year. How is the argument going to be different now since it’s failed to win bipartisan support for all this time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President put forward a principle, the Buffett Rule, which, as you know, is built around the notion put forward by Warren Buffett, one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, that he does not believe he should pay income -- taxes on his income at a lower rate than his secretary. The President agrees with that principle and has discussed this in the past.
We now have legislation in the Senate put forward by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, with 13 co-sponsors, that the President supports. And that codifies the principle and would say that millionaires and billionaires, in keeping with the principle that millionaires and billionaires should not pay taxes on their income at a lower rate than average Americans, that they would pay a minimum of 30 percent on their income. The President supports that legislation. There’s going to be a vote in the Senate on that legislation, and that’s what you’ll hear him talking about.
Q Is there any indication -- does the White House believe that this will pass?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that we hope it will pass. I think that every senator who votes on it will have to examine for himself or herself whether or not they want to vote for a bill that says millionaires and billionaires should not pay taxes on their income at a lower rate than middle-class Americans, or vote against it. And they will have to explain to their constituents why they don’t agree with that principle.
And as you know, we just -- this gets into the broader discussion about tax reform. And I’m going to veer a little bit here, but I was thinking about this just earlier, that when we talk about proposed tax reform, as in the Ryan Republican budget that suggests we can lower rates, and -- which is a fine idea -- but then says, we’ll figure out how to pay for the $4.7 trillion down the road through the Ways and Means Committee by closing loopholes and finding other savings in tax expenditures without identifying what they are.
Well, one of the big ones -- one of the big ones is the ability for hedge fund managers and others to pay tax on their income at a capital gains rate. The President thinks that’s wrong. That’s why Warren Buffett pays at a lower rate than his secretary. Republicans thus far, by and large, have not supported the idea that we should eliminate the capacity for hedge fund managers to pay taxes on their income at a remarkably lower rate than average Americans. The President thinks as a matter of fairness that we should do away with that and that millionaires and billionaires should pay at a rate that’s not lower than secretaries or other folks who are just trying to make ends meet.
Q But since the White House isn’t proposing that Congress tackle broad tax reform now but just the Buffett Rule, because you know going in that there is not Republican support for this, at least at this point, can you acknowledge that this is --
MR. CARNEY: Jessica, the premise of your question is --
Q -- politically --
MR. CARNEY: -- no, I think the premise of your question is that we should never pursue any legislation --
Q No, it’s not. My question is --
MR. CARNEY: -- that faces political obstacles. And we do not agree with that premise.
Q Is there a measure of this that is politically motivated to draw on the frustration about income inequality in this country at a time that you’re entering into an election year?
MR. CARNEY: To the extent that there is a motivation to highlight and therefore put pressure on senators to listen to the concerns of their constituents about tax fairness, yes, and hopefully that pressure from senators’ constituents will result in a “yes” vote. I don’t argue that it’s easy or that will -- we’ll guarantee to get it passed, but that doesn’t make it not worth trying to get it done. And that’s why we’re doing it.
Q Can I ask you about Iran ahead of the talks? Iran has refused to close down its uranium enrichment labs. What makes you believe that their desire to resume talks is nothing more than a delay tactic?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. The President has made clear that the window is closing on Iran; that they need to treat these talks seriously because there is great concern around the world about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. President Obama has made clear that it is his policy to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He has also made clear that we currently still have time and space to allow for a diplomatic solution. And his belief that a diplomatic solution, a decision by Iran, that is verifiable by the world to forego pursuit of a nuclear weapon is the best way to ensure that Iran does not acquire one for the long term. But we are very clear-eyed about this. We understand that it is vital to measure Iranian intentions by actions as opposed to words -- and we will do that -- but it is also important that these talks are getting up and going again after a long delay.
So we remain committed to pursuing this path. We have the capacity, as we’ve mentioned before, to an awareness of the program in Iran -- enough of an awareness of what’s going on in the program in Iran that allows us to be sure that Iran has not begun to pursue breakout capacity and that we would have time to respond to that as necessary. And that’s why we have the time and space to pursue this diplomatic route with eyes wide open.
Q Can you specify then what are the specific demands that the U.S. is going to be making towards Iran? You want to have as many U.N. Security Council resolutions that call for the end of uranium enrichment, the closing of Fordo, the enrichment facility. What else? Shipping out anything that’s enriched above 20 percent. What are the specific demands the U.S. is going to make?
MR. CARNEY: Well, our position is clear as you mentioned, that Iran must live up to its international obligations, including the full suspension of uranium enrichment, as required by multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. We are obviously aware of and following the situation at Fordo and Iran’s enrichment to 20 percent. Those are priorities for us and priorities for the international community. But our bottom line is the cessation of uranium enrichment and the verifiable decision by the regime in Tehran to forego pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
Q So what’s the timeline on that given that those have been goals for quite some time? When’s the timeline about when Iran has to do this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have a specific date for you, but as the President said earlier this year, not that long ago, the window is closing and time is not infinite here. But there is enough time and enough space at this moment to pursue a diplomatic solution. That’s why the resumption of these talks is important and why we hope that Iran will understand that the whole world is aligned here on the side of the resolutions that Iran has been in violation of and in agreement with the idea that Iran must give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Q And then, just to follow up with Ben and the Buffett Rule -- how much of this vote that's going to be on next Monday is an effort to put senators on record?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that's what votes do -- they put senators on record. And we will certainly see how senators handle that, the opportunity to vote on the so-called Buffett Rule through the legislation proposed by Senator Whitehouse. The goal is the passage of the resolution -- the passage through the Senate of a bill that would simply codify that millionaires and billionaires in this country should not pay tax on their income at a lower rate than most folks in the country, in the middle class.
So hopefully it'll pass. As I was discussing with Jessica, the -- precisely because of the focus on this this week and the attention that it's getting and the attention, therefore, that constituents in various states around the country may be paying to it, then maybe senators will decide -- those who are on the fence or perhaps even those who have been opposed to this in the past -- will rethink their position, consider the fundamental fairness of the legislation, and vote yes.
Q Is it also a political effort, once again, though, to draw attention to the fact that the President's likely opponent, Mitt Romney, paid 14 percent, and that this looks like a political vote?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply note two things. One, the President, as someone noted earlier, has been talking about the Buffett Rule long before it was evident who might emerge as the nominee for the other party. Two, that process still isn't done, so we're not going to make announcements about who the Republican nominee is from here. And it doesn't matter because everyone who supports -- everyone who has been running for president, or all the principal candidates for the Republican Party, have unfortunately expressed their opposition to the idea that the Buffett Rule should become law; to the idea that there is -- that it is not a simple matter of fairness that millionaires and billionaires should pay taxes on their income at a rate equal to or above what middle-class Americans pay.
So again, this is an opportunity for senators on the Hill to make their position clear, and others who have an interest in this should express themselves as well.
Q A couple of issues. We now have a second carrier group in the Gulf. It's relatively rare that we have two carrier groups in the Persian Gulf.
MR. CARNEY: That's actually false. It's based on a schedule where there's I think roughly one-and-a-half carrier groups at all times in the Gulf. So there's a rotating schedule in this.
Q So this has nothing to do with this weekend's talks with Iran?
MR. CARNEY: As I understand it, this is part of a routine rotation.
Q Because, based on my Google searches, I've only found maybe a half dozen times in the past 10 years or so that we've had two carrier --
MR. CARNEY: We have a regular rotation through the Gulf. I can -- I will take the question for you to get the -- what that looks like. I took questions on this before when it had to do with the Straits of Hormuz and what our rotation was through the Gulf. But obviously the Pentagon can answer that question as well.
Q Extensive story in the Washington Post over the weekend about our intelligence in Iran. And I don't really expect you to comment on intelligence matters, but is the President comfortable enough to believe that we will know when and if Iran decides to try and weaponize its enriched uranium?
MR. CARNEY: As I was saying earlier, and as others have said, we do have visibility into the program. I would refer you to the IAEA report of several months ago that talks about that and the kind of visibility that we have. And the fact of that visibility allows us to believe that we will -- we can make assessments about moves by the Iranians towards breakout capacity -- the phrase that people use in terms of pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
Having said that, I just want to reiterate that we are clear-eyed about Iranian behavior, and it is important for Iran to understand that the window is closing and that these talks are an opportunity for Iran to fulfill their international obligations, to relinquish their pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and to -- by taking those actions in a verifiable way, to rejoining the community of nations and reducing the amount of isolation that their actions have subjected them to.
Q On a different issue, there's a report in The Hill that says a couple hundred million dollars have been -- of IRS money has been used to fund aspects of the Affordable Care Act. There are some Republicans on the Hill who feel this is improper given that there is a fund for implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Can you react to their criticism?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to HHS and the Department of Treasury, but I would -- my understanding is that this is about enabling the IRS to provide the -- essentially the tax breaks to small businesses and individuals to assist them in acquiring health insurance, or in the case of small businesses, providing health insurance. But the details are better found at Treasury and HHS.
Yes, and then I'll move it around.
Q Jay, just following up on the North Korea question, you said that the U.S. continues to work with its international partners to pressure North Korea to halt its planned nuclear launch. Does that mean that the President has been in contact with some of his international counterparts in recent days -- over the weekend, today?
MR. CARNEY: I just want to be clear -- you mean the missile launch, not a nuclear launch.
Q Yes, the rocket launch.
MR. CARNEY: The rocket launch. We are in regular contact with all of our partners who have been working with the United States on this issue. I don't have any specific communications involving the President to report out to you today. But we are very focused on this. It is -- the plan itself to conduct a missile launch is in direct violation of North Korea's international obligations and represents a highly provocative act.
The President has already said that to follow through with this act would make it virtually impossible for the United States to provide the nutritional assistance that we had planned to provide. And that fact alone reinforces the kind of regime that we're dealing with when we talk about North Korea -- because the decision that they make to go through with this provocative act directly results in more deprivation for their people -- a people who are literally starving and suffer greatly because of the actions of the regime in Pyongyang.
Q Has the President been in contact with China's President since the nuclear security talks?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any communications to report between President Hu and President Obama since Seoul -- since they met in Seoul. But again, we communicate at a variety of levels about this issue and many others with the Chinese.
Q And on a separate note, Jay, a New Mexico same-sex couple brought their eight-year-old daughter to the White House today for the Easter Egg Roll, in part to send a message to the President that he should sign an executive order that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Does he plan to sign this executive order?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any updates for you on possible or proposed executive orders. I would note that we're delighted that that couple and many others were able to attend the Easter Egg Roll and -- again, I don't have anything more on the executive orders.
Q Does the President have a reaction to the fact that they're here and that they came with a message?
MR. CARNEY: Well, they’re here because they were invited, and the President -- many, many people -- families of all kinds are invited to this wonderful event. And the President is delighted that they and others were able to attend.
Q But, Jay, as you know, they've been speaking out. They've been speaking to various members of the press about this issue, and looking for a reaction --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't have anything for you on a specific executive order. What I can tell you is I think the President's position on LGBT issues is -- or record, rather, is well known and one that he and we are very proud of.
Q Can I jump in here, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Carol.
Q I wanted to go back to the Buffett Rule for a minute. Last year, when the House Republicans were passing the cut, cap and balance rule, the White House called it an empty political statement. Can you explain how what the White House is doing on the Buffett Rule -- which congressional Republicans have said they won't support just like the President said he wouldn't have supported cut, cap and balance -- is any different from what they were doing and what you guys called "an overt political statement"?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'd say two things. One, the piece of legislation we're talking about here, on its face, has broad support across the country from Americans of all political persuasions, according to the data produced by the polling organizations hired by your employers. Secondly, the fact is that there is an opportunity here, because of the 60-vote threshold, to demonstrate by some Republicans, if they choose to listen to their constituents and agree with the legislation and the notion that millionaires and billionaires should not -- or should pay at least the rate on their income that average Americans do, that there's an opportunity here through -- rather than a bill that emerges from the House with just Republican support, for -- the way that this can clear the hurdle in the Senate is to get support from not just Democrats but from Republicans. And we hope that that is the case.
I will grant to you, as I did to Jessica, that this is a challenge because we have faced this opposition, but we have also seen on a variety of occasions a willingness to back away from absolutist positions. And maybe we'll see some of that willingness in this case.
Q Can I just ask you, on Syria, given what's happening there right now, is the administration prepared to intensify its support for the opposition, particularly the Arab plans to send arms to the Free Syrian Army? Is that something that you guys are considering or looking at?
MR. CARNEY: Well, our position on providing military aid has not changed. We do not believe it's, at this time, the right approach because the further militarization there would potentially have negative consequences. But I just want to say that we are -- we will see what the situation is upon the reaching of the deadline set forward, and see what Kofi Annan has to say about Syrian actions and whether or not they have honored the commitment to withdraw their forces. And then we will proceed from there.
Yes, Mara, and then --
Q On Iran, I know you don't want to say -- you don't want to give a specific date for when the window closes. What happens after it closes? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: There's less air in the room. (Laughter.) I'm not going to speculate about what might happen should Iran choose not to honor its international obligations, and through the vehicle of the P5-plus-1 talks not make progress towards that goal. But this is obviously a serious matter. We are committed to ensuring that the Iranians do not acquire a nuclear weapon. The consequences of -- the reason for that -- and I think the President has discussed this on many occasions -- but the reason for that is the threat that it would pose in general, and specifically, but also the environment it would create in the region and the kinds of arms race that would follow if Iran were to be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.
So the President takes this very seriously, and that's why he is committed to working with our international partners. That's why he has spent three years ensuring that we could have the kind of consensus internationally that we have now, where we have everyone focused on Iranian behavior; everyone aware of and publicly acknowledging the fact that the decision here is Tehran's. The decision here to end a situation that has resulted in Tehran's extreme isolation and the most punitive sanctions that have ever been levied rests with Iran -- that they have the ability here and the opportunity, through these talks, to come in line with their international obligations and begin to reduce the kind of isolation that has resulted in -- and the kinds of sanctions that have resulted in hardship for Iranian people. Their economy has definitely suffered, and it has caused some chaos for them in general.
And that's because the United States, working with the international community, understands very clearly what the threat is and why it is so important to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.
Q Is the reason you don’t want to say what happens after the window closes is because the international community hasn’t decided yet or it’s just not a good idea to tell them?
MR. CARNEY: I just -- it’s pure speculation. The talks start on April 14th. To discuss what happens at some date down the road if other things don’t happen is not helpful.
Q I just want to follow up on tax reform. You kind of mentioned it unprompted about how the Republicans -- Ryan hasn’t mentioned any loopholes that he would close. Do you expect Dave Camp to list the loopholes soon that will be closed?
MR. CARNEY: I have no expectation. I’m simply noting that in the assessments that we have made and others have made about Congressman Ryan’s budget, which has become the Republican budget, that there’s a big blank space in the proposal, which says, take it on faith that this tax reform, which would result potentially in lower rates, will be paid for -- the $4.7 trillion I believe is the overall cost -- by simply closing loopholes and finding other savings through tax expenditures.
But you all know, because you’ve reported on this and you’ve reported on the budget negotiations and tax discussions over the past year, that that money is not there -- and even if you do some very, very difficult things. But it’s certainly not there if you don’t go -- if you say that hedge fund managers should still be able to pay 15 percent on their income and that what they won’t talk about is the home mortgage deduction and other deductions that middle-class families get for health care and things like that.
So there is a tremendous lack of clarity, a complete absence of information about how this tax reform would be pursued and completed. And what I heard Congressman Ryan say somewhere on the radio, I believe, was that Dave Camp over at Ways and Means would figure it out. Well, I don’t think that’s really a plan.
Q Do you want Mitt Romney to -- since he’s embraced the Ryan plan and you’re making sure that everyone knows that -- do you want him to --
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t said that at all.
Q -- but do you want him to specify how he would --
MR. CARNEY: I think anyone who -- I think if you support the plan it would be helpful for the general edification of the American people to explain how you would get from here to there.
I owe you a question. Yes.
Q Thank you, Jay. On Syria -- today, Syrian forces actually shot at the refugee camps within Turkish border, and this has been confirmed by the Turkish officials. My first question is, have you been able to talk to Turkey on this particular issue that reported four wounded and I believe one got killed? And the second, are you committed to back and support your letter on why Turkey -- because on the record, again, Turkish official today stated if this happens again Turkey is going to take steps to respond to that.
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. We have been in close touch with our Turkish allies on the events that you described that occurred this morning, and I would refer you to the Turkish government to confirm details. What is clear is that the -- is that regime-perpetrated cross-border violence spilled over into Turkish territory, and killed and injured several individuals in a refugee camp.
We condemn any attacks by the Syrian regime on refugees in bordering countries, and are outraged by today’s reports. We strongly support the Turkish calls on the Syrian regime to immediately cease fire. This activity is yet another indication of the regime’s -- that the regime’s crackdown could significantly undermine stability in the region.
Q Jay, what is going to take your government to change your policy from diplomacy to basically either military intervention -- are you going to wait like in Bosnia in ’95, ’96, or are you going to do something for that's right -- at the point which just last week it's reported over a thousand people got killed in Syria.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have strenuously and strongly condemned the attacks and the appalling violence that has been perpetrated by the Syrian regime on its people. We are providing humanitarian assistance, working with international partners through the “Friends of Syria” to provide humanitarian and other forms of non-lethal assistance to the opposition. We are working to help the opposition organize itself and unify itself. And we continue to isolate -- work with our international partners to isolate and pressure the Assad regime.
I think that historical comparisons are useful sometimes but are very limited. And the comparison and the analogy that is often brought up is the actions that President Obama took last year with regard to Libya, and I think you are certainly very aware of why, in this case, it’s important to remember that each country is different and each situation is different.
And certainly what was true about the situation in Libya was the unanimity around the world about the need to take action, the U.N. resolution that reflected that unanimous feeling, the willingness in the regime and the desire in the regime that action be taken, and the opportunity in a -- for action to halt a direct threat on many, many thousands of Libyans in Benghazi. And I think that is why that set of circumstances led to the action that the international community was able to take last year. This is simply to say that there are limits to the historical analogies and their applicability.
Q Final question. Do you have any hope at this point on the Annan plan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there is broad international support for the Kofi Annan plan. We will see what Mr. Annan says when the deadline is reached. And we certainly expect that if there is not cooperation, if there has not -- if the Assad regime has not fulfilled its obligations under that plan to withdraw its forces, that the international community will be -- will see that very clearly and there will be discussions to decide what should happen next, and how the international community should act in response to that. But I don’t want to get ahead of that deadline or Mr. Annan’s assessment.
Q Back to Iran a second. I didn’t see in the joint statement from Presidents Rousseff and Obama any reference to Iran or the sanctions. Did the subject of Brazil’s past lack of support and whether it might change its stance on Iranian sanctions come up in their meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Jackie, I confess to you that I didn’t see the statement either, and I’ll have to get back to you on a readout.
Q Just one other thing about North Korea -- you mentioned the talk about the upcoming rocket launch, but there’s also been recent reports about new evidence that there might be a nuclear test soon to follow. I was wondering if that was brought up when the President visited South Korea, and if not, if you’ve had any further discussions recently with the South Korean government about that. I mean, do you have any sense of that evidence?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re not going to talk about intelligence assessments. But any action towards an underground test would be a provocative action and would be the kind of action that would demonstrate, again, to the international community, North Korea’s refusal to live up to its obligations. But I don’t have anything specific for you on those reports.
Q Jay, another question on that meeting with the President of Brazil. Do you know if there’s any talk of -- there’s currently a dispute ongoing between Brazil’s aviation company and one in the United States over defense military aircraft. Do you know if that came up?
MR. CARNEY: I think, because that meeting ended so recently, that we’ll have to get back to you with a readout of it. I don’t have specifics from it.
Q As you know, Jay, next week the IMF and World Bank are meeting here in Washington. Does the President have any message in advance of the meeting regarding his view on restoring a global approach?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have one from him that’s tied to the meetings. I would note, obviously, that the President has nominated -- put forward a nominee for the World Bank position. And we have worked very closely with our international partners, most recently in Europe, in dealing with the kinds of challenges to recovering from the global recession that Europe has encountered, that in some way are similar to the ones that we did -- we encountered a few years ago. That’s why Secretary Geithner and others have been in consultation with the Europeans, offering their advice about our experiences here and the actions we took. And we note, obviously, the steps that the Europeans have taken to deal with their situation in Europe. But there is no specific message regarding -- or in line with the meetings next week.
Last one. Somebody I haven’t called on in a while. Jen.
Q Thanks, Jay. I just was wondering if you have any reaction to Senator Grassley saying over the weekend that Obama is -- he is stupid for his comments on the Supreme Court’s decision.
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t see that, so I don’t have a specific reaction. I think we went through this a lot. And on Monday the President expressed his views, when asked, that there is -- recent precedence since the New Deal would suggest that the Supreme Court gives a lot of deference to the Congress in its ability to pass legislation that regulates the national economy.
I understand that because he didn’t specifically reference the Commerce Clause or the context, that those comments were not understood necessarily by everyone to mean only related to the Commerce Clause. And so he spoke again -- when he was asked again on Tuesday he made that clear.
I think it’s an observation of what I think I was saying last week -- it’s an unremarkable observation of fact that since the Lochner era the Supreme Court has given deference to Congress on matters related to the national economy and matters of national economic significance, which no party to this dispute disagrees health care qualifies.
So that’s simply what he was saying. He has also made clear that, in part, for that reason, or largely for that reason, that he believes that not just that his personal belief and our belief here in the administration that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, but that the Court will find it to be so as well because of all that many years of judicial precedent.
Q So you didn’t know about Grassley’s tweet and then David Axelrod’s response?
MR. CARNEY: I did not. I am learning about it right now, live from you.
Q Can I follow up, Jay?
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: You bet.
Q Okay. Thank you very much. Just last week Senator McConnell had said, and I quote him, “The President seems to be saying that it’s an act” -- an activist, I’m sorry -- “if judges do not stretch the limit of the Constitution.” What would be the President’s definition of judicial activism? Because he did use the term last --
MR. CARNEY: I think he used it referring to commentators in the past who have bemoaned judicial activism. And I would simply note, again, that it -- well, I would say that it is slightly ironic to hear complaints about this from folks who over the years have repeatedly, happily, and publicly expressed their concern about judicial activism. I covered President George W. Bush, and I can remember -- I can almost recite in my sleep the lines that he would deliver regularly about the problem of judicial activism and legislating from the bench.
So the suggestion that President Obama -- I mean, that President Obama was noting that history of commentary -- which we all reported on for years -- when he made that assessment, when he was simply saying that if you are keeping with precedent -- which nobody disputes exists since the Lochner era -- on matters like this that involve the national economy, that precedent would argue that you would uphold the law and consider it constitutional. That was his point.
Thank you all very much.
2:43 P.M. EDT
January 31, 2015
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