Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/15/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:26 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank you for being here today.
I’ve often been asked and seen some comments about what it’s like to be up here, having been over there on the firing line, if you will. And I can remember sitting in the chair that Mark Knoller is occupying now when my friend and great predecessor, Mike McCurry, was press secretary, and the day that he came out with a brown paper bag on his head. I can’t do that, because if I did, you wouldn’t be able to see the many faces of Jay in reaction to today’s news -- or yesterday’s, rather -- provided, of course, by our good friends at The Washington Post. But it is, as they say, part of the job.
And with that, I have a couple of announcements. First, today, later this afternoon, the President and Senator McCain are meeting to discuss ongoing progress and the importance of common-sense immigration reform, as well as other issues, including ongoing budget negotiations. That’s here, at the White House.
Also, I wanted to let you know that as part of his --
Q What time is that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific time for you, but we’ll get back to you -- but it’s later this afternoon.
Q Dinner or lunch?
MR. CARNEY: No, just a meeting here at the White House this afternoon. No early bird dinner.
Mental health conference announcement that I have for you today is that as part of his plan to reduce gun violence, President Obama directed Secretary Sebelius and Duncan to launch a national conversation to increase understanding and awareness about mental health. And as part of that effort, on June 3rd, the President and Vice President will host a national conference on mental health.
As the administration has repeatedly emphasized, the vast majority of Americans with a mental health problem are not violent and, in fact, they are more likely to be the victims than perpetrators of the crimes. While millions of Americans struggle with mental health problems, those who need help are too often afraid to ask -- to seek it, rather, because of the shame and secrecy associated with mental illness.
And the conference will bring together people from across the country, including representatives from state, local, and tribal governments, mental health advocates, educators, health care providers, faith leaders, and individuals who have struggled with mental health problems, to discuss how we can all work together to reduce stigma and help the millions of Americans struggling with mental health problem recognize the importance of reaching out for assistance.
And we’ll have more information about the conference as the date approaches.
Finally -- and I’m going to smile for this -- I think you all noticed in the CBO, or I hope you did, the CBO report yesterday, the so-called baseline reestimate. And the improvements in the CBO’s report show that the President’s policies of cutting the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion in a balanced way are contributing to the most rapid deficit reduction since World War II. The most rapid deficit reduction since World War II.
While there is still more work to be done to cut the deficit, this is important progress because we strengthen America by growing the economy from the middle out. Working with leaders from both parties, President Obama has cut the deficit by more than half when measured as a share of GDP. This is a balanced deficit reduction that cuts waste, asks millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share in taxes, and preserves investments we need in energy, education, and manufacturing to grow the economy and create jobs.
The administration is committed to continuing to work with Congress to create jobs, reduce the deficit, and replace the sequester in a balanced way.
Later this week, we understand that CBO will be putting out a reestimate of the President’s budget, which includes, as you know, his plan to replace the economically damaging sequester with a balanced approach to deficit reduction that would help drive stronger economic growth in the short term and the long term.
And now I go to Julie Pace.
Q Thank you. The President said in his statement last night about the IRS report that he wanted to see those who are responsible held accountable. What does he mean by that?
MR. CARNEY: As I said yesterday, the President wanted to see the report by the independent Inspector General into the activity of IRS personnel before he made judgments about that activity.
He has seen the report, and you saw his statement. It was categorical and reflected his absolute conviction that the conduct portrayed in the report is inappropriate and, regardless of the motivation, it is wrong. And he expects people to be held accountable if they engaged in inappropriate activity, inappropriate conduct.
He expects the Treasury Department and the IRS to take all the necessary actions to ensure that this kind of thing cannot happen again. And he insists that this happen because it is of the utmost importance, in the President’s mind, that the American people understand and believe that the IRS applies our tax laws in a neutral and fair way to everyone.
And he is -- feels very strongly about this, as I think you saw when he took a question about it and answered it in the hypothetical, if you will, if the reports on what had happened turned out to be true. And now that we know what the IG report has said, you saw what his views are about it in the statement he released.
And he’ll be meeting with Treasury Department officials later today to talk about the next steps that he hopes will be taken to achieve the things that I just said: making sure that people are held accountable for their conduct, for their activities, and that the steps necessary are -- the necessary steps are taken to ensure that this does not happen again.
Q But that still doesn’t answer the question about what he thinks being held accountable means. Does he think that people should lose their jobs if they were involved in this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to get into specifics about what outcomes should happen here, but I will tell you that the President feels very strongly about this and that he will -- he wants to see that the actions taken, as revealed by the Treasury report, that are inappropriate, are met with consequences. And he will have that discussion with Treasury officials, and he will make clear to Treasury Department leaders that he expects action.
Q Is he going to leave the decisions, though, about how these people should be held accountable to the Treasury Department? Or is he going to --
MR. CARNEY: I think there are -- there are obviously procedures in place here about lines of authority, and I will direct you to the Treasury Department for how that works in terms of Treasury’s oversight of the IRS. But the President’s views have been made I think abundantly clear in the statement he provided last night and will be made abundantly clear in the meetings that he’s having.
Q But could you just give us a sense of the President’s thinking in deciding to push again for the reporter shield bill?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, Julie, the President has long supported media shield legislation in the Senate, during the 2008 campaign, and as President. In fact, under his leadership, the administration successfully negotiated a balanced bill in the Senate in 2009 that passed the Judiciary Committee by a significant vote, bipartisan vote, and was widely supported by the news media and journalism organizations represented in this room.
And he has been in contact with -- or the White House has been in contact with Senator Schumer, and we are glad to see that that legislation will be reintroduced, because he believes strongly that we need to provide the protections to the media that this legislation would do.
Q The Justice Department has introduced a criminal investigation into the IRS matter, and Speaker Boehner suggested that people responsible should be sent to jail if it’s appropriate. Does the President feel that that kind of outcome would be a necessary outcome for this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously a criminal investigation conducted by the Justice Department is something that the Justice Department would have to address. Generally speaking, if there is criminality involved and proved then, in a general matter, in any criminal investigation, it is the President’s view that it should be met with punishment. But I cannot, obviously, comment on the investigation that the Attorney General announced the other day.
What I can say is that the President believes that the conduct reported in the IG’s review is inappropriate, it is wrong, and there needs to be consequences for that conduct and there need to be steps taken to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Q And on the media shield law, can you comment on the timing of this? Is this an effort to counterbalance the controversy over the AP records?
MR. CARNEY: Look, again, we can't -- there’s a criminal investigation on. I think the Attorney General addressed the nature of that investigation. As is entirely appropriate, we are not aware of tactics involved in the investigation or any of the particulars about such an investigation.
What I can tell you is that the President’s support for this kind of media shield law is well documented, it is longstanding, and he does believe that it is appropriate to resubmit that legislation and to try to convert it into law at this time.
And I said yesterday, he is Commander-in-Chief, and as any Commander-in-Chief should do -- should be, rather -- he is very mindful of the national security implications of the leaking of classified information. I, again, can only point you to the public reports, but the Attorney General did say that this investigation involves what he called a particularly egregious national security leak. And these are serious matters, because the leaking of classified information can harm our national security interests and it can endanger the lives of American men and women overseas.
Separate from that, the President believes that the balance that we need to achieve needs to allow the maximum amount of freedom for the media to pursue investigative journalism that's possible.
And the media shield law that he supports -- or bill that he supports would go a long way towards achieving that, and I would note that the bill that was negotiated by this administration in 2009 that passed out of committee successfully in a bipartisan manner had the support of numerous media organizations.
Q But why with all the other things he has on his plate now would he choose this time to reintroduce --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think again without commenting on the specifics of an ongoing criminal investigation, he thinks it’s an appropriate time to work with the Senate, in this case Senator Schumer, to reintroduce this legislation.
Q Has the President spoken with Secretary Lew about what his expectations are for accountability?
MR. CARNEY: I think he will be speaking with Treasury leaders today.
Q But there’s been no communication to date?
MR. CARNEY: I think that it was entirely appropriate that, as I said and the President said earlier, that we could not pass judgment on the Inspector General’s report based on partial information provided in media stories about that report. We needed to wait for the report to be delivered. It was delivered late yesterday. The President commented on it immediately.
Q I assume you won’t say whether or not the President believes interim Director Miller should or shouldn’t resign. But is there any plan to name a permanent director? Is it time to do that?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any personnel announcements. I don't have any personnel announcements to make. I can tell you that the President believes that we need to look at the findings of the Inspector General and his review and to make determinations about the need to hold people accountable for their conduct.
I’m not addressing that to any -- about any specific person. This is something that will obviously be the subject of discussions and actions at Treasury and the IRS, and as is appropriate oversight by Congress. But the President’s view on this is very clear and very, I think, strong, as you saw in the statement last night.
Q Okay, more broadly, the President has a lot of goals for the year: gun control, immigration reform, entitlement and tax reform, to name a few. How concerned he is that this is going to distract from his agenda?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a good question, Jessica. And I would just say that -- and I think a little perspective here is required. These are the kinds of issues that we deal with here in this room and that the appropriate people deal with in an administration, but the vast majority of the people working for the President every day are working on the agenda that he laid out in his State of the Union address and in his inaugural address -- an agenda that is focused on what we can do to keep the economy growing; what we can to invest in infrastructure and in education; what we can do to expand our civil liberties; what we can do to enhance our national security.
This is the foundation of what he believes he’s here to do, and it’s what he focuses on every day. And it includes -- you mentioned action to reduce gun violence. It includes, as I just mentioned, with the mental health conference that he and the Vice President will be hosting, it includes continuing to work on issues that he believes are necessary for America’s leaders to take to reduce gun violence and that enjoy, in that case and in almost the cases of the agenda that he supports, the support of the American people.
And that's what -- if you look at what reporting that's probably been done by CNN and others, these are the things that the American people expect their leaders to be focused on. And I’m not suggesting that some of these other matters are not important. I mean, you can tell by the way that the President has responded to these revelations about conduct by IRS personnel that he feels passionately about it and he expects action.
But he is focused on an agenda that is focused on the middle class and building the economy.
Q But, Jay, recently the President has gone out to the American people to ask for their support lobbying Congress for his agenda. And given this trio of controversies together, some people feel calls into question their faith in government overall. Do you worry or does the President worry that the people will lose faith in him and in government?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President is concerned when you see the kind of activity documented in the Inspector General’s report by IRS personnel, that that kind of conduct, no matter what the motivation or lack of motivation there is behind it, that that can undermine people’s faith in the IRS in particular and the essential notion that the IRS enforces our tax laws in a neutral and fair way. That is fundamental and essential, and that’s why the President has the attitude that he has towards this and why he’s going to insist and demand that action be taken.
Q Jay, does the President still have confidence in the acting IRS commissioner?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Jon, I’m not going to get into personnel. The fact of the matter is the President will be discussing these issues with Treasury leaders later today, and I think his views on the overall IG report have been conveyed to the public and to you. So I’m not going to get into personnel matters.
Q The IRS leadership response to the report, which is included at the end of the report, says -- acknowledges some minor problems in methodology, basically, but says, “We believe that frontline career employees that made the decisions acted out of a desire for efficiency and not out of any political or partisan viewpoint.” And the IRS says that these issues at this point have been resolved. Does the President buy that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President believes that the Treasury Department, as he has directed, needs to hold those responsible for these failures accountable and that they need to make sure that each of the Inspector General’s recommendations -- each of them -- is implemented quickly so that such conduct never happens again.
And you pointed out the observations of the IG audit or report, and I think that’s significant because intention is a part of the story here. But regardless of the intent, the President believes the conduct was wrong; it is inappropriate to use the kind of criteria that were used -- whatever the goal was, efficiency or otherwise -- to make the decisions that were made about implementing the laws regarding these kinds of 501-(c)(4) organizations; and that he expects those changes to be made, all of the Inspector General’s recommendations to be implemented, and for those responsible for the failures that we’ve seen be held accountable.
Q But let me just ask that last part again. Does the President believe the IRS when they say that none of this was politically motivated in any way, that the only goal here was efficiency?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that the President has read the IG report. The IG report says that, in its interviews, that everyone they talked to said that they were not motivated by anybody on the outside; that this was not for political or partisan reasons.
Q And he believes it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know that he has any reason to doubt it. This is an independent Inspector General. What I can say is that what questions need still to be answered should be answered, and that’s his view; and that oversight is an important part of this -- legitimate oversight is an important part of this, and we would support legitimate oversight into this matter.
In the meantime, we need and expect action to be taken in response to this report.
Q And just one more thing. The report also says that on August 4th of 2011, that the chief counsel at the IRS -- I believe that’s William Wilkins, appointed by President Obama in 2009; this is one of only two political appointees at the IRS -- that the chief counsel was briefed on this back in 2011. Did he share that information with the White House?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to look at that. I don’t know that that’s the case. I would point you to the Treasury Department for more information about I think the meeting that we’re talking about or that is represented in that.
Q But shouldn’t he have? This is one of the President’s political appointees, chief counsel.
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is what I said yesterday: The President found out about this through media reports on Friday. That’s how I found out about it. The White House Counsel’s Office was notified a few weeks ago, through the Treasury Department, about the Inspector General’s review and that it was coming to a conclusion. And that is a fairly routine matter, when an Inspector General review is being concluded and will be made public, that there is a notification. It was a topline notification, and it was also made clear that the matter was still under review and not completed. And that is what we know about this matter until -- what we knew about this matter until we saw the report yesterday.
Q The purpose of briefing the chief counsel, according to the IG, was so that everybody would have the latest information on the issue. As the President’s political appointee over there, shouldn’t there have been an effort for him to brief you?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you can say what should have been or shouldn’t have been. What I can tell you is what to my knowledge I’m aware of.
Q Couple things. You mentioned just a second ago, whatever questions need to be answered. What are the questions that the President has about what is known and unknown with the IRS?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President, as you know, and as most of us have done, digested the lengthy Inspector General’s report. He will be having conversations with Treasury officials this afternoon. I think that the information that we've learned through the Inspector General’s report is certainly sufficient, in his mind, to call for action, and that's why he’s calling for action and that actions be taken. I'm simply saying --
Q What questions does he have?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a conversation readout for you --
Q -- by whether this was politically motivated or not?
MR. CARNEY: Jon asked that question and I would point you to the IG report, and we have no reason to doubt the IG report. But we certainly understand that oversight is a -- legitimate oversight is a necessary part of this and that actions need to be taken to hold people accountable for their failures and to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.
Q Is he also curious about the testimony given to Congress, which appears to be a direct contradiction to what the IG report lays out in terms of what was disclosed to Congress when asked specifically about whether or not conservative groups were being scrutinized?
MR. CARNEY: Well, if you're talking about IRS leadership, I think that the President believes that -- and this applies to all personnel involved -- that whatever the intention here, that failures that are identified in the IG’s report need to result in consequences and that actions need to be taken to hold people responsible. I don't have a specific and I won't get into a specific about which individual or individuals should be held responsible. That's the subject for conversations between the President and the Treasury, and especially for the Treasury Department and the IRS to address.
Q Does the President believe, broadly, that either intentionally or inadvertently misleading Congress is, by itself, something that would be subject to dismissal?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to get into actions with regards to personnel.
Q Why not?
MR. CARNEY: Because it’s inappropriate to project what actions might be taken. There are methods that have to be followed, and that's appropriate. But what I can tell you is that accountability is essential as far as this President is concerned, and that the actions taken by IRS personnel, as documented in this Inspector General report, are inappropriate and wrong, and they should not have happened and they need to be corrected, and those who are responsible for the failures need to be held accountable.
Q Can you tell us who he will be meeting with from Treasury?
MR. CARNEY: Treasury leadership. I'm not sure of all members of it, but it will include the Treasury Secretary and Deputy Treasury Secretary and others. But I don't have a full list.
Q Will there be any coverage?
MR. CARNEY: No, it’s a private meeting.
Q Now, yesterday there was a dustup here on the podium where you suggested that Republicans fabricated, intentionally, emails related to the Benghazi talking points. There have been requests today from the Hill that the White House release them all -- all the relevant emails so the public can have a full vetting of this and evaluate it in clear light of day. Is the White House willing to do that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me answer that -- the two parts of that. First of all, what I said is I was asked about a report where a news organization had the actual email that had been reported on previously and the actual email was substantively different from what had been reported on, including things that were put in quotations. And that's just a fact.
And I think that it goes to the motivations of the GOP obsession with this matter -- and “obsession” is a word that I am adopting from print reports, it is not just mine -- and it reflects the fundamental fact here that when it comes to the much discussed talking points, the issue that caused the concern to begin with was the fact that Ambassador Rice, on the Sunday shows, using the talking points provided to her, said that it is our understanding, our best understanding at the time, that there had been spontaneous demonstrations that then led to the violent attack and assault on the facility in Benghazi.
It is absolutely true that that assessment turned out to be wrong. What is also true is what we have maintained from the beginning, that that assessment was made by and drafted by the CIA, the intelligence community. And when it proved not to be the case, we acknowledged that. And we made clear from the beginning that the information that we had in real time in the days after the attack in Benghazi would, of course, evolve as more information became available, and our assessments would evolve as more information became available.
But when you have an assessment about the -- if you go back to what originally caused the accusations by the Republicans about the so-called talking points, it was this assertion that there had been demonstrations and the -- what turned out to be the case that there hadn’t been. What is essential to know is that that assertion was made from the beginning by the intelligence community, as the President said the other day, and that was the best understanding that the IC had at that time. And, of course, the intelligence in the early days after an incident like that, especially in a place like Libya, is incomplete and imperfect. And as more information became available, we made it available. And I think that’s the essential fact here that has I think been obscured often in the reporting on this.
Q But can you answer my question -- are you willing to release the emails? If it’s all benign as you described --
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t mean to. I just forgot the comma to go into the second part.
Q I mean, if it’s all just benign and a part of the agency process, as you describe, let the country take a look at it. Is that something the White House is willing to do?
MR. CARNEY: I can say a couple things about this. In our cooperation with the investigations and oversight by Congress in this, we have provided an extraordinary amount of information -- thousands and thousands of documents. We have provided testimony by senior officials repeatedly in hearings and in person, and other forms of testimony. We have provided to the relevant committees as well as leadership and staff the very emails that we’re talking about. And was a concession, a unique concession to a longstanding position held by administrations of both parties going back years that internal deliberations are not something that we divulge or make public.
I can also tell you that we are always looking at ways to how we can provide more information about this specific issue. And I don’t have any announcements for you now, but we’re looking at ways that we can make more information available.
Q But you said that this process has been contaminated maliciously. So why don’t you let the public look at what you’re describing?
MR. CARNEY: Major, I commented on a news report that reflected that an email that had been reported on was actually not accurately reported on. I have said more broadly that this is political. Republicans are fundraising off of it. Outside conservative groups are doing ads on it. You have reports that the -- by your colleagues -- that the Speaker of the House is obsessed with it and yet, when he had the opportunity to look at the emails, he didn’t even go. We know that the emails in question were provided to the relevant members of Congress of both parties, including the leadership. And at that time, even though they supposedly knew everything that was in them, they did not raise objections about them. And their concern about the emails with regards to the confirmation process for John Brennan were met and the confirmation moved forward.
So it is absolutely political. And we have in the course of this been focused on what isn’t political and what is essential, which is the fact that four Americans were killed and we need to find those who are responsible and bring them to justice.
Secondly, we need to take action to ensure that the inadequate security that clearly existed at the time, because we could not protect those four Americans, be looked at and addressed so that it doesn't happen again.
And that is reflected in the ARB led by Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering and their unsparing report, and in the fact that the State Department adopted every one of their recommendations.
Q Might you release the emails?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we’re looking at, as we have throughout this process, ways to provide as much information as possible. There is the tradition, if you will, or the concern that dates back through administrations of both parties involving internal communications and deliberations, but we are again, as we have throughout, working to provide more information.
Q Is the President as concerned, as troubled by the subpoena of AP phone records as he is the IRS’s actions?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that when there are criminal investigations undertaken by the Department of Justice, we do not have insight into or knowledge about them -- and that is the way it should be -- methods or other information that should not be and is not shared.
What I also can tell you is that the Attorney General has said that he has confidence that the procedures the Justice Department is supposed to follow in this case, in these kinds of circumstances, were followed. But I am simply reflecting what the Attorney General said because I don't have independent information, and we do not have independent information about an ongoing criminal investigation, an investigation which, as the Attorney General said again, involves an egregious leak of classified information.
And obviously an investigation like that is fairly broad in terms of its scope, and that's why it’s so essential that White Houses do not engage with Departments of Justice on matters like these. There is some history to that in previous administrations, and it is not a pretty history. So we maintain that firewall.
Broadly speaking, I can tell you that the President is a strong defender of the First Amendment and a firm believer in the need for the press to be free in its ability to conduct investigative reporting and to facilitate a free flow information.
He also has to, as Commander-in-Chief and as a citizen, be mindful of the necessity of protecting our national security information, classified information. And that is a balance that he believes we can find and must find. Part of finding that balance -- again, not specific to this case -- but part of finding that balance he has long believed is enacting the kind of media shield law that he has supported since he was a senator and which he looks forward to being reintroduced in the Senate in the coming days and weeks.
Q So he believes there might have been justification for the government to subpoena these phone records?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’re putting words into my mouth. What I did was cite the Attorney General. We do not have independent insight into -- or eyes onto the methods or information involved in a criminal investigation.
Q The President sat next to the Attorney General at the Police Officers Memorial. Can we assume they did not discuss this?
MR. CARNEY: I can assume that, but I have not had a conversation with the President about it. You can be sure that the firewall that we maintain is always maintained.
Q Walk me through why it’s necessary to maintain that firewall.
MR. CARNEY: Seriously? So it is entirely appropriate that criminal investigations conducted by the Department of Justice be independent of the White House, of any White House. And in a case like this when, according again to the Attorney General, that this is an investigation that has to do with an egregious leak of classified information, it would be doubly inappropriate for other components of the administration to cross that line and to communicate with the Justice Department about that ongoing investigation. So we do not.
Q It’s being cited as a failure of leadership that on the AP subpoenas, the IRS actions, the Fast and Furious gun-walking investigation, you or the President said that you learned of it from media reports.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would be interested to see what the reporting would be if it were otherwise, if it were to found out that there were -- that there was engagement by the White House in criminal investigations conducted by the Department of Justice.
Again, I think it’s important and instructive to know the history here of previous administrations and to know why it is so important that that firewall be maintained. It’s not always convenient, but it is important. It is important to the successful carrying out of investigations and to the implementation of our justice system.
Q Given the fact that you said that the IG report the President has acknowledged concern that it sort of undermines Americans’ view of the IRS, Senator Weicker today said that the IRS controversy is going to make it significantly more difficult for this administration working with Congress to pass any big budget deal if it includes new taxes. Is that a concern?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes, as a majority of Americans believe, as every bipartisan panel that has looked at this believes, and as most economists believe, that the proper way to further reduce our deficit so that it does not infringe on economic growth, so that it does not cause job loss, but rather it causes growth and job creation is to do it in a way that is balanced, that includes revenue from tax reform as the President has proposed. That is the right way to do this. That's the way the American people believe is right.
And I would simply point you to what I said at the top. We have seen -- and it’s important to note this because we have spent a great deal of time, appropriately, talking about deficit reduction here at the White House and on Capitol Hill and around Washington and different ways of achieving it, and the President committed that he would reduce the deficit by half when he took office. And there was a lot of skepticism about that. The CBO has now put out a report making clear that we have reduced the deficit by half, and more work needs to be done.
And the reason why we’ve been able to reduce the deficit by half, the reduction that we saw from the baseline estimates from February to May, is because of increased revenues. Why do you have increased revenues? One, because of the President’s approach to deficit reduction, as you know through the fiscal cliff deal that was finally negotiated at the end of the year and on the 1st of this year; and because we have a growing economy, and a growing economy is essential -- is an essential component of deficit reduction.
And if you take the approach that has been supported by others of answering the call for deficit reduction by asking seniors and the middle class to foot the bill while giving tax cuts to the wealthy, the success rate of that proposal is abysmal. I mean, we can just look. I wish I had the chart here.
When President Bush took office in 1993 -- or rather in 2001, he inherited a budget surplus. By the time he left office, he bequeathed upon his successor record deficits. In those eight years, policies were implemented that mirror the policies supported by Republicans when it comes to budgets and deficits today. They did not work. The middle class stagnated even during periods of growth. Wages were flat. And in the end, we saw the worst financial crisis that we’ve seen in our lifetimes and a near depression.
Since President Obama has come into office, he took immediate, urgent measure, emergency measures to stop the bleeding and to prevent a depression. And since that time, we have seen steady, substantial deficit reduction. We have seen steady economic growth. And we have seen steady job creation. That’s the recipe that the American people expect and want from Washington.
Q But it doesn’t seem unreasonable for Americans right now, given what we’ve learned about the IRS, may have a lack of confidence in the tax-collecting agency.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President believes, as I just made clear, that it is imperative that action be taken so that Americans understand and believe that the IRS enforces our tax laws in a neutral and fair way to all Americans. And that’s why he expects action in response to the report, and it’s why he feels so passionately, as you’ve seen reflected in his comments on it.
Q The White House, in an effort to try to reestablish confidence, some have said has been ineffective in terms of its crisis management. The gentleman who used to stand at that podium before you, Robert Gibbs, said just yesterday in reference to the President’s remarks at the news conference with David Cameron on Monday, that if the President had spoken less about losing patience for this, “which is what I do with my 9-year-old, and used [far] more vivid language,” this circumstance wouldn’t play out the way that it had. Does the White House feel confident that its handling of this crisis has been sufficient in terms of placating Americans’ concerns about their trust in government?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President made clear, based on news reports, his feelings about those reports and what he would expect if they turned out to be true. It is entirely appropriate for a President or other leaders in an administration not to take action based on media reports, but to wait for the actual Inspector General review to see what happened before moving forward, and that’s what the President did.
I think it would be --
Q Is that bad advice that Robert Gibbs was suggesting to this President?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think the President is impatient with people who do not hold themselves to the standards that he believes employees of the federal government ought to hold themselves to -- because the American public deserve that and he expects it. He also believes that it is important for him to wait for the facts before he acts, and that is what he done here.
Q Thank you, Jay. We’ve seen on gun control -- we saw the President act and push a gun control bill after the events at Sandy Hook. We’re seeing with respect to the shield law the President pushing the shield law after reports after the seizure of AP phone records. Why doesn’t the President proactively come out with his agenda and push it regardless of these -- what’s happening outside? Why doesn’t he just come forward with his own agenda and --
MR. CARNEY: I mean, Peter, I’d say that's a question that I wish I could answer in full because I could give you the full list of the President’s agenda, both when he took office in 2009 and when he was inaugurated for a second time earlier this year. And the items are filled -- the list is filled with items that he proactively initiated, not least the Recovery Act; not least the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare; not least the actions that resulted in the deal at the end of the year just now that contributed to the reestimate of our deficits by the CBO that made, for the first time in 20 years, our tax code more fair.
And there are just numerous instances of this. I think that it is fair to say, and as others have said, that the accomplishments of the first term are substantial legislatively and are substantial in ways that do not involve legislation, including the fulfillment of the President’s commitment to end the war in Iraq, the fulfillment of the President’s commitment to refocus our attention in the war against terrorists and al Qaeda on Afghanistan and the al Qaeda central in the Af-Pak region that led to the successful removal of Osama bin Laden from the battlefield.
And if it is also true that the President pushes legislation that he believes is essential, that -- at least in the case of Newtown -- is a response to something horrific, like Newtown, that is wholly appropriate. And what we have seen, even though a minority in the Senate rejected the will of 90 percent of the American people, we have seen a substantial change in the views of the American people on common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. We have seen and heard the voices of the American people who were disappointed in the Senate expressed in the aftermath of that.
And the President believes, as he has said to you, that this fight is not over, that this will be done. When it comes to enacting legislation, responsible legislation, to expand our background law system so that it works and it’s not filled with loopholes, that's going to happen. The President believes it’s going to happen not because he wants it or says it’s so, but because the American people have been so clear that they want it and they will hold their elected leaders responsible if they block it.
Roger Runningen, then Mark Landler.
Q Thank you. Mr. Erdogan of Turkey is here tomorrow for talks with the President about Syria and a host of other items. Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and its top Republican are introducing legislation to authorize arms to the Syrian rebels. How does the White House respond to that?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a comment specifically on legislation that, if you are correct, is being submitted. What I can tell you is that the President and his team are constantly evaluating the options available in terms of assisting the Syrian people and assisting the Syrian opposition. We have significantly increased our assistance in both cases: humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people -- we are by far the largest donor of that assistance; and direct assistance to the Syrian opposition, including assistance to the Supreme Military Council.
It is our position as of now that our assistance to the Syrian opposition is nonlethal in nature, although it has changed in kind within the rubric of nonlethal. But we are constantly evaluating what our options are.
You heard the President talk about this and the need to make sure that the actions we take help bring about the goal that we seek, which is a Syria that is rid of Bashar al-Assad; a Syria that has the opportunity to flourish, to be more democratic and more prosperous; to have a government that reflects the will of the people and respects the rights of all the Syrian people. And those are substantial goals, and we need to make sure that the actions we take contribute to the achievement of those goals on behalf of U.S. national interests, as well as, importantly, the Syrian people.
Q Mr. Erdogan told NBC on May 9th that, “We want the United States to take more responsibility, further steps inside, in Syria, to end the fighting.” It sort of sounds like he may not get anything like that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know what you mean by the last part of your question. I can tell you that the President will have discussions with the Prime Minister about a range of issues. And I'm sure that Syria will be very high on the agenda, including ways that we can, working together and with our partners, bring about the transition that is so essential in Syria, including the efforts that are underway to revitalize the Geneva Framework for a political transition -- we've been working with the Russians on that matter as well as others -- and including the ways that we are working to provide assistance to the opposition and to the Syrian people.
Mark, and then Ari. Two Marks -- I did say Landler first. So I'll do Mark, Ari, Mark.
Q Thanks, Jay. The New York Times is reporting this morning, citing a senior Israeli official as warning President Assad of two things: Number one, that Israel will continue interdicting the flow of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah, something it did two weeks ago with a series of military strikes. And secondly, that if the Assad regime retaliates against this, it can expect a much broader Israeli response, one that the official described as putting Assad at risk of forfeiting his regime.
Is the White House concerned that this conflict in Syria has the potential, the danger, of spilling across its borders and becoming a wider conflict?
MR. CARNEY: In answer to your question at the end -- yes, we have always been concerned that the conflict in Syria could expand beyond its borders. But as a general principle, that is why we have been so insistent that we need to bring about a political transition there and that we need the support of a range of partners in that effort.
In terms of reported Israeli actions or contemplated Israeli actions, I would have to refer you to the Israelis. What I have said in response to the story that you mentioned -- the previous story -- is that, broadly speaking, we have long acknowledged and recognized that it is part of Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself and that its concern about the transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah is legitimate. And we understand that concern and why Israel holds it, and why they take action to address it. Again, that’s not in response to any specific reported action but simply our position on the overall matter.
Q Can I ask one follow-up on Benghazi? Further on this discussion of the talking points and the interagency process, I’m just wondering, is the White House confident or does the White House have confidence in the performance of the State Department Spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, who is the author of some of the emails in question? And would the President be comfortable promoting her or forwarding her for a Senate-confirmed position in the future?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the answer is yes, and the other is a hypothetical. But the answer is yes, we have confidence in her. And, again, when it comes to the so-called talking points, the fundamental issue here was why did Ambassador Rice go out on the Sunday shows and assert that it was the view of the administration and, in this case, the intelligence community, that there had been a protest and that that is what led to -- in response to the anti-Muslim video --- and that is what led to, ultimately, to the violence and the assault against the facility there.
That assessment turned out to be wrong. But that assessment was made, as is reflected in all the reporting here, by the intelligence community after a lot of internal deliberations about what different information there was and what could and should be said publicly. And there was a process in which the CIA issued talking points that represented their view on what happened and took into concern -- took into account the concerns of others about what information was appropriate to provide and what wasn’t. And that document moved forward.
What is ironic about the churn that has been caused by this is that, again, the accusation was always that we had somehow, the White House or others, had altered the intelligence community’s assessment. That is false, has always been false. Secondly, the idea that we tried to perpetuate a view of what had happened that was inconsistent with the new information that was provided. But that is belied by the facts -- by the fact that the President called it an act of terror the day after; by the fact that the NCTC Director in congressional testimony just a few days after Ambassador Rice was on the Sunday shows, said our information now is that this was a terrorist attack.
And as more information became available, we made it available. And meanwhile, actions were taken on the important matters, which was launching an investigation into who did this so that they can be brought to justice, and launching a process by which an assessment could be made of what went wrong, what failures there were that allowed for four Americans to be killed, and implementing recommendations to prevent them from happening in the future. And that moved forward at the President’s direction, at the Secretary of State’s direction.
Q Thanks, Jay. The President has spent so much time and effort in the last four years trying to persuade Americans that they should trust their government. He says government is not some hostile outside force; government is us. He says it again and again. Do the actions of the IRS and the Justice Department make it more difficult for him to persuade Americans that the government deserves their trust?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can address the IRS. The fact of the matter is that the conduct described in the Inspector General’s report is wholly inappropriate, as far as the President is concerned. It is wrong and it should not have happened, and action needs to be taken so that it doesn’t happen again, and those who are responsible for the failures need to be held accountable.
And it is precisely because -- both broadly, but with specific regard to this agency -- that the American people believe and can feel assured that the IRS operates in a neutral and fair way in the application of our tax laws to everybody. And that is why he has responded the way that he has.
Q But given the range of government, at least questionable if not bad behavior that we’re looking at -- and I know you don’t want to talk about the DOJ but it’s on the front page every day -- how does the President say with a straight face, you, Americans, should trust your government, we’re acting in your best interests?
MR. CARNEY: Well, here’s what the President can say and what any responsible chief executive can say in a situation like this -- a chief executive who oversees a substantial organization, and I think it’s fair to say that the federal government is substantial. If inappropriate action, illegal action, wrong action is discovered, it needs to be corrected and people need to be held accountable. And that is what this President has said, and that is what he will instruct others to make sure happens.
And that reflects his view that everyone who works for the United States government needs to hold himself or herself to the highest standards, the standards expected by the American people.
And the American people justifiably hold everyone -- from the President on down -- to those standards. And when those standards are not met, and when there is inappropriate conduct, regardless of the motivation, when there are failures the likes of which we see documented in the Inspector General’s report, action has to be taken. There has to be impatience for that, and the President has that impatience for that kind of action.
So he wants and instructs everyone who works in the government -- whether they work for him or are civil servants -- to hold themselves to that standard. And when he finds out that there have been failures, he acts on it.
Mark and then Christi. Mr. Knoller.
Q Jay, you said earlier that most officials are not distracted from their jobs in pursuing the President’s agenda. But what about you? Much has been said and written about the burden that you’ve faced in the last few days with the Benghazi, IRS, and AP stories. Have you felt an undue burden? Have you dreaded this week’s briefings more than any other?
MR. CARNEY: You know it’s a personal question, but a great question.
Q Do you appreciate it? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: You beat me to my punch line. (Laughter.) In this case, I actually do. It is a privilege every day to stand here, and I wear the so-called burden lightly because I believe in what we’re doing and I believe in what we’re doing in this room.
I think, because I did it myself, that it is entirely appropriate for the reporters who cover this building to ask hard questions, even when they're questions that are hard to answer, or when I have to say, because it’s true, that I don't have the answer, or that it would be inappropriate for me to have an answer.
And I know that that is unsatisfying, but it has to be the case. And I think that it may sound odd, but I enjoy coming out here when it is challenging because I think that this is a portion of our democracy at work. And to be a part of that is a rare and unique privilege. And I think -- I hope everyone here feels that. I know I felt it when I was sitting in the chair that you're occupying, and I know I’ll feel it for the rest of my life.
Q I just want to make sure I understand your response to Wendell about the resurrection of the reporter shield bill. It’s not -- it would be wrong to read that, you’re saying, as a sign that the President is not happy that the DOJ went after the AP?
MR. CARNEY: It would be because we simply -- we don't have information about, nor should we, beyond the press reports, about the specific investigation or the methods that are being employed. I can point you to what the Attorney General said about his confidence that procedures in place were appropriately followed. But beyond that, I simply don't have and the President doesn't have further knowledge about or insight into that specific investigation.
It is certainly the case that, broadly speaking -- and these are issues that are being raised now -- that he believes we need to have the kinds of protections for the media that a media shield law would provide. And he has long felt that -- because the balance that I speak of that he believes is necessary and that he seeks is a careful balance that begins with the proposition that we need to allow reporters the freedom to pursue investigative journalism, which is an essential part of our democracy, an essential part of what should have and needs to happen in Washington.
And then, starting from that essential proposition, we need to then understand and take account of the really vital concerns that are raised by the leaking of classified information. And without going into -- because I don't know the details, but I can tell you what the Attorney General said -- without going into the specifics of that case, he said it was a particularly egregious leak of information.
And broadly speaking, that's a serious matter. And I know that it’s -- when you’re a reporter, as I was, that you view this through a particular lens, and that's appropriate. But it is also important to remember, and I think all reporters or most reporters do, that there are real consequences to the leakage of classified information or can be, and there can be, in fact, lives endangered by it.
And we just -- the President believes we have to find that balance. But there is the predisposition towards the First Amendment and towards the ability of the press to operate freely.
Q So let me ask you this: Did the White House go to Senator Schumer and ask him to do it?
MR. CARNEY: We have been in contact with Senator Schumer.
Q Was it at the White House initiative?
MR. CARNEY: Well, this is Senator Schumer’s bill, let’s be clear. We are encouraged by his desire to resubmit it, and it reflects the principles the President has and holds. But we certainly have been in conversation with him.
Q Is there ever any setting in which the President and the Attorney General sit down as two lawyers who understand policy and have a vested interest in the way this administration carries out its -- crafts and carries out policy and discuss things like this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would, of course, not participate in -- I don't participate in all his conversations. He obviously has known the Attorney General for some time. But the President believes very strongly in the need for that independence and in the need for the firewall to exist. And I think for the reasons that I’ve said, it would be the expectation of reporters who cover this, as well as others who hold any administration’s feet to the fire on matters like this, that that firewall be maintained, because it would be inappropriate for a White House to engage with the Justice Department in a criminal investigation of this kind in particular.
Q Right, but I’m not talking about a criminal investigation. I’m talking about a policy matter.
MR. CARNEY: But you’re asking me about potential conversations that -- well, about policy matters, sure.
Q But do you?
MR. CARNEY: Sure, in fact, I can point you to -- I mean, I don't have a specific conversation. But, sure, the President engages in policy discussions with all of his Cabinet members. And, in fact, going back to the media shield law, there was a letter I believe in late 2009 that was signed by the Attorney General and the Director -- the DNI in support of the media shield law. And that reflected the President’s position, so I’m sure there was a discussion about that policy. But what there is not a discussion of is ongoing criminal investigations.
I’ll take one more. April.
Q Jay, on immigration. The President and this White House have pushed for the diversity lottery to be placed in the Senate and the House bills. Apparently, by a voice vote last night -- it looks like you’re prepared for it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m just turning to see if there’s anything in here on it -- I know the question, though. Go ahead. I think I do.
Q Okay. By voice vote, the Senate adopted the diversity lottery. What is the President saying about that? And will that be part of the discussion tonight or this afternoon with John McCain?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we expect that immigration reform will be one of the topics of discussion this afternoon between Senator McCain and the President. I'm not sure whether this specific amendment will be discussed. I think the progress being made in general in the Senate will be discussed and the road forward will be discussed.
As you know, the President feels encouraged by that progress. And he is admiring of the bipartisan effort that has made it this far, of which Senator McCain is such a key component. But there will be other matters discussed.
On that particular provision, the President supports it. And he looks forward to a bill emerging from this process that reflects his principles. He acknowledged from the beginning -- and has periodically since the beginning -- that he will not get everything he wants in it, that it will not be word for word the way he might have written the bill. But it will, he expects, reflect the principles that he laid out that have been online now for so long.
And it will, he hopes, earn the kind of robust bipartisan support that will I think represent to America the broad consensus that has developed around this issue and that contains within it the real possibility that this significant piece of business can be achieved with all of its benefits for the middle class and for the economy, for the 11 million people living in the shadows, and for our businesses.
But there is a lot of work to be done. We're mid-stream in the process -- to go back to the general question of what we're doing around here, the issues we're focused on, this is an issue that we're focused on and a lot of people are working on. And we're still in markup in the Senate, and there's a lot of road to travel. But there has been substantial progress and we are heartened by that.
Q Are you going to finish with the House? Are you going to push this effort in the House since it's not even included?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we're working with both houses of Congress, both parties in both houses on this issue. We have long noted that the Gang of Eight -- so-called Gang of Eight in the Senate has taken the lead on this and has moved forward in a bipartisan way. And we have been very supportive of that. But we are working with both houses.
You guys clearly have breaking news that I don't have.
Q The acting head of the IRS has told congressional officials, we've learned, that the IRS problem stems from two "rogue employees" in their office in Cincinnati. Is the White House aware of this? Was the President aware of this?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not. I’m hearing about that for the first time. I'm aware of what's in the Inspector General's report.
Q And mine is actually different. Franklin Graham has sent a letter to the President saying that he believes two of his organizations have been audited for political reasons. And in this letter to the President he said, “Will you take immediate action to reassure Americans we are not in a new chapter of America's history -- repressive government rule?” What's the response to Franklin Graham?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that the President will reassure Americans that he will insist that every step be taken necessary to hold people accountable for the failures that are documented in the Inspector General's report, A. And, B, that actions be taken so that the inappropriate conduct not occur again, that the kind of criteria that were used never be used again, because it's entirely inappropriate, in the President's view, because it is so essential for the American people to believe that the IRS is enacting our tax laws in a way that is fair and impartial and neutral.
Thanks very much, everybody.
2:30 P.M. EDT