Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 6/5/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here today, on another glorious day. And fortunately, we will all be outside soon. We need a hard stop -- I'm looking at my friend from the Associated Press -- at 2:00 p.m. so that people can get out to the Rose Garden for the announcement the President is making from there at 2:15 p.m. Because of that, I will refrain from opening statements and go straight to questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. Are you concerned at all that by selecting Susan Rice that it will be more fuel in the debate over Benghazi, just as the White House is trying to look at other things other than that issue?
MR. CARNEY: Not at all. Let me say a couple of things. Ambassador Rice is one of the most qualified and experienced experts in the field of foreign policy in the country. She has served with distinction as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She has served in various capacities in the National Security Council and at the State Department. She is extremely smart, she’s extremely experienced, and she is extremely tough. And she has been a principal on the President’s foreign policy team throughout his presidency and as a foreign policy advisor prior to that.
When it comes to Benghazi, I would say a couple of things. First, what we learned through the revival of this story and the release of emails and talking points was what we had said all along, which is that Ambassador Rice went out to the Sunday shows and conveyed what was the intelligence community’s best assessment of what had happened in Benghazi at the time. It is fully apparent from any fair review of the talking points and their evolution that that was the case. The one factual issue that was ever a matter of dispute and concern was clearly drafted by the intelligence community -- and I would point you to statements by the DNI Director and the Director of the CIA and Deputy Director of the CIA to back that up.
So finally I would say that we've seen an enormous amount of positive reaction to the President’s decision to make Ambassador Rice his National Security Advisor, and that includes we've also seen statements from Senators McCain and Graham and Ayotte, who obviously have played a role in the discussions about the Benghazi talking points, saying that they will be working with her as National Security Advisor. So we think -- we're very pleased by that and by the reception to this announcement that we're seeing today.
Q Both Ambassador Rice and Samantha Power have had a major role when it comes to Syria. Do their selections signal a desire to move the ball forward at all on that issue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple of things. Both Samantha Power and Ambassador Rice have been advisors to the President on national security matters throughout his time as President -- or almost throughout it, since Samantha left the National Security Council at the end of the first term. But the fact of the matter is the President wants and expects the principals on his national security team to have strongly held views that they express in meetings with him. That's why he has a strong Secretary of Defense, a strong CIA Director, a strong Secretary of State -- which was obviously the case in his first term as well.
But ultimately, it is the President of the United States who assesses the views of his foreign policy team when there are issues to be debated, and then he makes the decision. So I would simply say that the President's policy on Syria will be the President's policy as it is today.
Q And, Jay, there is a new poll out from NBC that says 58 percent of Americans still think that the country is in recession. Why do you think so many Americans are not feeling some of the progress that the White House has described in terms of the housing market, jobs and other things?
MR. CARNEY: Because we still have so much work to do. One of the things you hear from the President all the time, one of the things you will hear from the President as he makes another stop on his Middle-Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour is that we need to keep at the business of helping this recovery along.
We have come a long way from the worst recession since the Great Depression. We have seen sustained economic growth and sustained job creation. But we are not where we need to be yet. Too many Americans are out of work still. Too many middle-class Americans are struggling to get by. Even those who have work are still worried about how they're going to pay for their children's education, how they're going to care for their elderly parents.
That’s why we need to make the kinds of investments that the President wants to make, and made clear both in his budget and in his State of the Union address, because this economy needs to continue to grow. And we need to make the right choices when it comes to economic policy to ensure that we are strengthening and expanding the middle class.
And I think the President has made clear since the day he took office in 2009 that this has been his number-one priority. And he made clear at the beginning of this year in his State of the Union address and in the presentation of his budget and in a series of events since then that the economy and the need to have it continue to grow, the need to make investments that create jobs and spur economic growth, remains his top priority.
Q I wanted to ask about the timing of this transition. As you know, it comes right before Tom Donilon was to depart for these meetings, these foreign meetings with China and the G8, Africa. I'm curious to know whether Tom Donilon in his meetings with Chinese officials leading up to this visit told them, look, I'm only going to be around until July.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me correct a little bit of an impression that might have been left from your question. Mr. Donilon, Tom Donilon is not leaving until the end of this month. He will be participating in the meetings that the President will be having with the Chinese President precisely because Tom has been so key in the formulation of the President's foreign policy and in the rebalancing effort towards Asia that has been a cornerstone of the President's foreign policy.
As I think has been reported, and I can say that it's accurate, that the President began discussing with Tom Tom’s desire to transition out of this job after the election. And the President asked him to stay precisely because he had a series of transition moments with the appointment of a new Secretary of Defense and a new Secretary of State, and his new CIA Director, but also some key foreign policy matters that he wanted Tom by his side as he dealt with them, and that includes this upcoming meeting with the Chinese President.
Q What challenges does this transition pose at this time, given that the key architect of the President’s policy on China is leaving just ahead of --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think this will be a very smooth transition, as you will hear from the President when he announces it today. This is a process that will take place over the course of roughly a month. And in Ambassador Rice we are having someone take over as National Security Advisor who has been a principal on the President’s foreign policy team from day one and even prior to his election to the presidency. So that will be seamless. And we will have in Samantha Power someone who has also been a major player on the National Security Council for the President and an advisor to then-Senator Obama, dating back to 2005 on foreign policy issues.
So I think this will be a very smooth transition, and the President is enormously gratified that Ambassador Rice and Samantha Power have agreed to take these positions on because he has for so long depended on their advice and counsel.
Q Is the President girding for a contentious confirmation hearing for Samantha Power?
MR. CARNEY: We would not expect one. Obviously, the Senate will fulfill its responsibilities here, hopefully with speed as well as deliberation. I think you’ve seen in the reaction to the news that Sam Power will be nominated for this position a whole series of experts in the field who know her and have worked with her come out in support of that nomination.
And I think that reflects the standing she has, given her remarkable career both as a journalist, who in 1993 saw images of emaciated men behind barbed wire in Europe and immediately headed to the Balkans to be a war correspondent. Those of you who are familiar with her work on genocide and her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell,” know her passion for these issues. And she has been remarkable and a remarkably effective advocate for the President’s policies as a member of the National Security Council team on U.N. and Multilateral Affairs. So I think that the breadth of her experience and her effective advocacy for policy positions will serve her well in her confirmation process.
Q Is the President going to press for a quick hearing, or would he even consider a recess appointment?
MR. CARNEY: The President expects the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to consider this nomination and believes that Sam is fully qualified and will enjoy support from both sides of the aisle.
Q And would you describe just a little bit the difference between Susan Rice and Tom Donilon’s styles, how they might be different as National Security Advisor?
MR. CARNEY: Obviously, everybody is different in an administration and a White House. I think that it is worth noting, as people focus on what’s new here, which is a new national security advisor and a new ambassador to the United Nations, to take a moment to focus on Tom Donilon’s departure, because he has been an extremely effective National Security Advisor.
I think for those of us who have been around a little bit of time and seen the importance of this role and know its importance through history, especially modern presidential history, we can say I think with great confidence that Tom has been one of the most effective National Security Advisors this country and any President has ever worked with.
And he was by the President’s side and a major player in the operation that took out Osama bin Laden; was a major player in the keeping of the promise to end the war in Iraq; a major advisor and player in the multi-agency process that is in effect now as we keep the President’s commitment to wind down the war in Afghanistan. He is, as has been discussed already, at the forefront of the President’s effort to rebalance our foreign policy so that we are paying the due attention to Asia that Asia requires in the 21st century.
So it is, I think, a testament to Tom’s skill that he has played this major role in the way that he has. And I know that the President is extremely grateful for that.
Q Just to get a clarification on immigration. Over the weekend, the Republican Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said that he opposes a special pathway to citizenship for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in the United States. For the White House, for the President, is a pathway to citizenship something that must be in a comprehensive immigration reform?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. We’ve made that clear. And I think that’s clear from the statements of the President, from the principles that have been available to the public for so long, and clear from the work of the Gang of Eight in the Senate that has moved along, making significant progress as it has emerged from committee in bill form and will be taken up on the Senate floor next week.
I think it’s important to note that the elements that the President laid out as essential to any comprehensive immigration reform have been reflected in the work produced by a bipartisan group of senators and voted out of committee by a significant bipartisan margin. We look forward to working with the Senate as they consider this legislation on the floor, and as I noted the other day, this work is far from done.
We hope and expect that the Senate will vote in favor of a bill that reflects the President's principles and that the vote for that bill will be strong and bipartisan. And we have been working with the House Gang of Eight -- so-called Gang of Eight as well, and with House members who have taken up this need for comprehensive immigration reform and will continue that effort.
There are, of course, going to be challenges along the way. If there weren't, we wouldn’t be talking about this because it would have been achieved already. But the President is very pleased with the progress we've seen so far, and you can be sure that his team is working very closely with Congress to help bring about this very necessary reform and legislation.
Q All right, that seems clear, so let me just clarify a fine point here. If a bill was to be produced along the lines of what the Republican Judiciary Chairman is talking about, a more piecemeal approach that falls short of a pathway to citizenship, this would be something the President would veto?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you're speculating about a bill that doesn’t exist that might somehow emerge from one committee in the House and become the product of Congress. We certainly don’t expect that. We expect the Senate to pass comprehensive immigration reform that reflects the principles that the President has laid out and supports, and that reflects the principles that so many senators of both parties support. And we will work with the House, as the Senate will work with the House, as they move this process forward.
But the President has been clear about what needs to be included as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package, and he's been clear about why immigration reform needs to be done in a comprehensive way. So I'm not going to speculate about outcomes that we don’t expect, or even outcomes that may come to pass. Right now, there has been substantial progress, and we need to focus on the work that needs to be done.
Q Jay, Eric Holder -- Republicans like Goodlatte, Sensenbrenner are saying they want more information from him. They've set a 5 o'clock deadline. Obviously, the Justice Department view is they've turned over letters and information about the various media investigations. They, so far, feel like they've turned over enough information. Republicans are sort of at a standstill saying they want more information. The point is, they're now threatening a subpoena to get the Attorney General to testify if they don’t get more information by 5 o'clock today. Would the White House expect the Attorney General to comply with that subpoena, or do you think that this is going overboard? And does the President still --
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I'll be honest with you, I'm not even sure of what efforts you're talking about here.
Q They want more information about the scope of the investigations of various people in the media, and they -- I believe it was Monday, the Justice Department turned over some info; they say they want more.
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Justice Department. I'm just not familiar with the particulars of House Republicans' requests.
Q Does the Attorney General still have the full confidence of the President?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. He's doing an excellent job, as I made clear when I was asked about this yesterday and pointed to a statement by Denis McDonough, the Attorney General has the full confidence of the President of the United States and is handling his job very well.
Q Some quick things. An Inspector General report has found that former Defense Secretary Panetta apparently leaked some top secret information to the filmmaker of Zero Dark Thirty about the bin Laden investigation. There’s some suggestion it might have been an inadvertent leak at an awards ceremony, but nonetheless, top secret information was leaked. Do you expect the Attorney General to have an investigation of this?
MR. CARNEY: I have not seen that report. I'll have to take the question.
Q Okay. Last thing, Susan Rice -- you described her as one of the most qualified, experienced foreign policy experts in America. If that's the case, how did she get the information on Benghazi so wrong five days after the attack?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I welcome the opportunity to correct the record, especially for some news outlets who persist in misrepresenting the facts. You have seen the so-called talking points. You have seen the testimony of the Deputy Director of the CIA. You have seen the documents themselves that demonstrate that the central contested point that Ambassador Rice made on those Sunday shows was drafted, in the first instance and in every instance thereafter, by the CIA.
Q Central point being whether it was terror --
MR. CARNEY: No. Whether there was a protest -- whether there were protests outside of the Benghazi facility that were inspired by the events in Cairo. The fact is the talking points said that there were extremists involved. And that was -- the decision to characterize them as extremists, again, I would point to statements by intelligence community senior officials who have made clear that that was their judgment.
And the idea that -- whether it was the President referring to it as an act of terror the next day after the events in Benghazi, or Susan Rice herself on one of the Sunday shows, talking about that it could be al Qaeda, it could be al Qaeda-related groups -- this is a false distinction that has been propounded by Republicans for political reasons from the very first days after the events in Benghazi, and it has been an unfortunate focus when the real focus should have been, and continues to be as far as the President is concerned, on taking the necessary measures to ensure that our diplomatic security is as strong as it can be so that this can't happen again, and to ensuring that we are doing everything we can to bring to justice those who killed four Americans.
Q Then why did various intelligence officials say in various testimony elsewhere that they almost immediately knew that this was terror? And if she’s so experienced in these matters, why wouldn't she see that as they saw it, regardless of what the talking points say?
MR. CARNEY: So you're suggesting that a senior member of the national security team should actually disagree with the assessments of the intelligence community provided by the CIA --
Q Actually, the intelligence community --
MR. CARNEY: -- because somebody interviewed on FOX News perhaps said something --
Q No, at one point, General Petraeus said the talking points he didn’t want to agree with anymore because the talking points had been changed so much the CIA Director didn’t think they were worth anything.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I honestly think --
Q Isn't that what he said?
MR. CARNEY: One of the things that was written about was that the CIA Director, General Petraeus, disagreed with the removal of a point about a warning to the embassy in Cairo, which reinforced, had it been included, the central point that the protests outside of Benghazi or the demonstrations and the attacks outside of Benghazi had been inspired by what was happening in Cairo. So that, unfortunately, doesn’t fit the narrative you’re trying to propose here.
I think there has been ample demonstration by the facts of the evolution of the talking points, the role that Ambassador Rice played in conveying the information that Director Clapper, that Mike Morell, that senior members of the intelligence community have made very clear were the assessments of the intelligence community. And in every iteration of this, Ambassador Rice made clear, as I did, that these were early assessments that were certain to change as we obtained more facts. And to suggest otherwise is just irresponsible.
Q Thanks, Jay. I want to go back to the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. Overall, it shows that the President’s approval rating has held steady, but if you look at some of the internals, it tells a different story. Now only 28 percent of independents say that he’s doing a good job. That’s down from 41 percent. Does that suggest that some of these controversies are, in fact, taking a toll on the President?
MR. CARNEY: I think that most Americans believe that their elected officials in Washington, from the President on down, should be focused on the matters that concern them the most -- the need to continue to grow the economy; the need to take action on policies that help the middle class feel more secure and help the middle class expand; the need to invest in our economy so that the jobs of the future are created here in the United States; the need to invest in innovation --
Q But independents don’t see it that way.
MR. CARNEY: You can piece -- you can tease apart a poll that, as you said in the first instance, was supposedly good news for the President, and try to find bad news. We’re not really paying attention to individual polls. We’re paying attention to the work that needs to be done on behalf of the American people. And there is no question, I think going to Josh’s point, that the American people are still not satisfied with the economy. They believe that their elected representatives in Washington need to take further action so that the economy grows and that the economy grows in a way that benefits the middle class. And that is what the President is focused on.
Q Is there any concern, though, that this could make it harder for him to get things passed in his second term like immigration, deficit reduction?
MR. CARNEY: I think that it has always been the case that when it comes to challenging legislative objectives and the requirement that there is bipartisan support for them, that the will to move forward with those on the Republican side will depend on assessments by Republicans of what’s in their interests as well as what’s the best policy.
And we believe that whether it’s immigration reform or the need to reduce the deficit in a balanced way, the need to invest in our economy so that we’re rebuilding our infrastructure, or ensuring that our competitive advantage in fields of innovation continues -- that those decisions will be made by Republicans because they’ll see it -- the decision to cooperate with Democrats and with the President will be made because they’ll see it as in their interest to do so and in the interest of the American economy and the American people.
Q I just want to shift to Syria quickly. It seems as though Bashar al-Assad and the government seem to have taken the upper hand in a number of key areas. Does that essentially dampen hopes that they will join in talks later this month, peace talks? And does it add pressure to this administration to do something -- to take action in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: We are working with our allies to have those talks take place as part of the Geneva Communiqué. We remain very concerned, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms the Assad regime's assault on Qusayr. The Syrian government and other parties to this conflict must fulfill their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law by immediately allowing neutral, impartial humanitarian organizations, including U.N. agencies, safe access to evacuate the wounded and provide lifesaving medical treatment and supplies.
It is clear that the regime is unable to contest the opposition's control of a place like Qusayr on their own, and that is why they are dependent on Hezbollah and Iran to do their work for them. And as I've said before, the fact that a regime like Assad has its partners in tyranny here -- Hezbollah and Iran -- says a great deal about their intentions and the fact that Assad's principal concern has been his own grasp on power, not his own people -- people that he's butchered.
So we are working with all of our allies and partners and the Syrian opposition to strengthen the opposition, to isolate the Assad regime, and to bring about a peaceful transition. And we believe that the conference that you mentioned in your question is part of that process.
Q Do you have any expectation that the Assad government will participate on any level at this point in time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we certainly hope that that will be the case, and we are working with the Russians, who are fully supportive of this effort, as well as others to bring that about.
Q Thanks, Jay. I just wanted to go back real quick to the Panetta report.
MR. CARNEY: I think I just said I don’t have it so I can't --
Q I was unclear if you had -- that you hadn't seen the journalism report, or you hadn't -- weren't aware of the DOD IG report.
MR. CARNEY: Both. In both cases, I will have to take the question.
Q Thank you. Can you let us know?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. April.
Q Jay, after Susan Rice did not gain the nomination for Secretary of State it was pretty much an open secret around Washington that she would be named national security advisor because that was the seat that she would have been able to confirm for. Did Republicans quibble about that at that time, when that open secret was being bantered about around Washington?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I'm not sure that I agree that it was an open secret. I think that the President makes personnel decisions when he makes them, and then he announces them. So there's that.
On the second point, I think there's been a lot of discussion about Ambassador Rice within the context that Ed brought up, but I haven't seen a great deal of discussion about whether or not she would take over as national security advisor until today. The President said early on this year that Susan Rice could fill any number of senior foreign policy posts in our government and perform capably as she did as United Nations Ambassador. And I think that that sentiment is reflected in his decision today to ask her to be his next National Security Advisor.
Q But let me ask you this then. Were there any Republicans that talked to the White House around this time about her political future -- “If she doesn’t make this, don’t do that or there will be consequences”? Did you get any of that kind of --
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of, April.
Q Thank you. The jobs of U.N. ambassador and national security advisor are very, very different. Does the President consider this a promotion for Susan Rice?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think they are very senior jobs and both positions are principal positions on the President’s national security team. And you’re right that they’re different jobs, and it says a great deal about Susan Rice that she is, in the depth of her experience and qualifications, that she is eminently qualified and capable of fulfilling each role.
She, as I mentioned earlier, served on the National Security Council staff. She has served at the State Department. And, of course, now she’s served at the United Nations. So she is well-versed in the various agencies that are responsible for carrying out a President’s foreign policy agenda and national security agenda, and will bring that experience to bear when she takes her position in the West Wing as National Security Advisor, a position for which a keen understanding of the interagency process is vital, and she has that.
Q Jay, if we look at the President’s foreign policy advisors, they’ve all -- almost all of them are transitioning in the second term. Can you just summarize whether the President looks to these new familiar faces but new personalities and new positions as a help to him in shifting into a second term foreign policy and executing that in a second term? Or is very much the same -- he’s not expecting a new approach?
MR. CARNEY: As I said earlier, I think every individual in any position who’s capable and experienced and brings something new to the table -- and even individuals like Ambassador Rice, who has served in one position and will now serve in another -- bring something new by doing that. But the President’s foreign policy and his national security agenda are what they are, and his team helps him develop his policies and then they implement those policies.
And I think that Secretary Kerry, when he was Senator and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was obviously a key outside advisor, if you will, to the foreign policy team here and we worked very closely with him. Secretary Hagel was an advisor -- an outside advisor to the President on foreign policy matters, as you know. And then Susan Rice and Samantha Power have been internal advisors. So there’s a continuity here even as these positions have changed and the personalities have changed.
But, look, I think there’s always an opportunity for the kind of -- when individuals take new roles to sort of further enhance the discussion about foreign policy objectives. And the President has always insisted on a kind of keen discussion of these challenging issues among his principals, and he will expect that now that his new team is being rounded out.
Q Can you update us on how far along the investigation on chemical weapons report in Syria may be, how long that may take?
MR. CARNEY: As I said the other day, we are working very closely with our partners on this matter -- with the United Nations, with France and Great Britain, with the Syrian opposition, with others -- on this issue as we gather more evidence and sift through it.
As was noted when this became an issue and we sent the letter to members of the Senate, we have evidence that gives us varying degrees of confidence to assert that chemical weapons were used in Syria. What we are still seeking is the kind of evidence to build on top of that existing evidence that makes a concrete case for the assertion that chemical weapons were -- have been used that can demonstrate when and by whom they were used, and the consequences of that use. And we are about the business of gathering that information.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Given the Syrian advances and the help they’re getting from Iran and Hezbollah and Russia, does that change the President’s thinking about what he might be able to do to help the rebels? In other words, does that change the ability of the U.S. to change the outcome on the ground?
MR. CARNEY: The situation in Syria remains extremely difficult, there is no question. And as the President retains every option in response to that situation and evaluates the options available to him, he is mindful of ongoing developments there.
We have been clear from the President on down that we rule out no option. And he continues to assess the possibilities here in terms of action that we might take, or we might take together with partners or allies, to help bring about the policy objective that we seek, which is the transition -- peaceful transition away from the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
We are continuously mindful of the fact that we don’t want to make policy decisions that inadvertently make that objective harder to achieve, and that is something that we take into account as the President and his team make assessments about the options available.
But there is no question that the challenges that we see in Syria -- the suffering and the violence and the tyranny exhibited by the Assad regime -- make clear how serious the situation is and make clear why we need to do what we have done, which is become the top provider of humanitarian assistance, the top provider of nonlethal direct assistance to the Syrian opposition and to the opposition military. But we are continuing to assess the options available to us.
Q Does “mindful of developments” mean that there’s a -- that you’ve made a conclusion that the dynamic has changed?
MR. CARNEY: I mentioned earlier I think in response to a similar question that we’re not going to provide battlefield assessments of which way the fight is going based on events in one town. What is clear is that Assad does not have control of his country. What is clear is that there is a great deal of carnage taking place in Syria, and that Assad is ultimately responsible for it. And that is why we are acting with our partners and allies and the opposition to bring about a transition.
Q Thank you. There are some reports that the new U.N. ambassador has a strong history against Israel. Do you expect -- if that’s true, does the administration expect that to be a factor in the confirmation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's not true. So there's that.
The fact of the matter is, as a lead staffer at the -- the lead staffer at the National Security Council on United Nations and Multilateral Issues, Samantha Power consistently led the effort to stand up against all efforts to delegitimize Israel and she supported Israel's right to defend itself. And that includes opposing the one-sided Goldstone Report, blocking efforts to single out Israel and the Security Council after the flotilla incident, and opposing unilateral Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood at the United Nations.
Samantha Power is a proven friend and supporter of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship. And she will continue to carry that forward as our next U.N. ambassador.
Q -- protest in front of the White House on June 17th calling for the President to execute an order that would stop the so-called war on drugs, especially against people of color. And on the heels of the Supreme Court decision to allow law enforcement to take DNA from those arrested, I'm just wondering what the President's position is on this, and if the administration has any further action planned on the so-called war on drugs.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President -- we have a document that we produce every year that I would point you to in terms of the President's policy positions when it comes to illegal drug use and his approach to -- which includes a robust effort towards prevention and treatment, and is not focused solely on the criminalization aspects of this or the law enforcement aspects of it.
I don’t know about the protest. But I would point you to the President's policy positions on these matters.
Q The First Lady, at an event last night, was confronted by a protestor who was asking about the executive order for federal contractors, and I'm just wondering if you could explain again why the President hasn't signed the executive order.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I did yesterday, so I could point you to what I said yesterday. The President fully supports a legislative effort, a bill called ENDA, on this matter. And again, I would just point you to what I said yesterday.
Q The legislative effort doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Given what you know about how Congress is moving things, I think it's unlikely to move. So I'm just wondering what is the --
MR. CARNEY: I think that assessment is made frequently about difficult propositions, but that does not mean we should not support it and it does not mean that it won't come to pass.
Q Is there some reason you think it should be a legislative effort and not an executive order?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I've addressed this many times, but we do believe that that’s the right way to go. It was the right way to go with "don't ask, don't tell" and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and we believe this is the right way to go strategically. And that’s why we're working with Chairman Harkin and others and pushing for this legislatively.
Q Jay, if I could follow up on that -- any chance you asked the President what he thinks of the way Mrs. Obama responded to a heckler last evening?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't asked the President that, but it's my personal opinion that she handled it brilliantly.
Q On Tom Donilon, what is the reason he is stepping down? Is he burned out? Is it that kind of a job?
MR. CARNEY: I think these are challenging jobs, but he is not. In fact, anybody who has seen Tom and knows Tom, knows that he is one of the most enthusiastic and energized people in the West Wing. In one of the most challenging positions imaginable, Tom Donilon approaches his work with sheer love of service and zest for the challenges that we could all emulate, quite honestly.
I remember running into him once on West Executive not long after he had become National Security Advisor, and there were just all sorts of significant challenges happening in the world of national security and foreign affairs, and he was -- you could just tell how much he enjoyed playing this role, serving the President, serving his country. And I think it is as true today as it was on that occasion.
So I think the fact is that from the day he walked in here, he has been leading the National Security Council. He has been National Security Advisor for almost three years. And he approached the President after the election about making a transition; the President asked him to stay longer and Tom has done that. But I think that he has done a remarkable job. I know the President agrees.
Q And will Ambassador Rice start trying to get up to speed right away? Will she go to the China summit or the G8 or the Africa trip?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe that she’s -- Tom is coming to California for the China meetings, the meetings with the President of China.
Q And the G8 and Africa? Is he still doing those?
MR. CARNEY: I believe he’s doing the G8. I’m not sure about Africa. But I can get that for you.
Q -- she in Africa?
MR. CARNEY: No, I don’t believe so. I don’t believe Ambassador Rice is traveling with us between now and when she takes over as NSA.
Q Just a thought on yesterday’s background briefing on the visit with the Chinese President. The senior officials say territorial dispute will come up as a topic during the meeting. So what’s the expectation that President Obama has over the discussion on the maritime tension? And also, will Taiwan issue come up in this meeting?
MR. CARNEY: As I’ve said repeatedly, it is a hallmark of our relationship with China and the way that we approach our relationship with China that we speak very clearly and candidly about all the issues that the two countries deal with, and that includes all the areas of cooperation and the areas where we seek deepening cooperation, the areas of -- the ways that our economies are intertwined as the two largest economies in the world; the ways that we can cooperate more fully in the national security sphere and the military sphere. And it also includes those areas where we disagree or we have different points of view, and we discuss them all.
So I don’t have a specific preview of the issues that will be raised and how they will be discussed, but we have always been very direct in our meetings with -- the President in his meetings with his counterparts, and Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry and Tom Donilon and others with their counterparts, on the whole array of issues that we always discuss with the Chinese. So I think that you can be sure that that will be the President’s approach, and he looks very -- very much looks forward to his discussion with President Xi.
Q What’s the President’s stance on Taiwan?
MR. CARNEY: What’s that?
Q What’s the White House --
MR. CARNEY: Our position on Taiwan is unchanged.
I think I’ve got to go so you guys can go out to the Rose Garden. Thanks very much.
1:58 P.M. EDT
December 17, 2014
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