Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 7/31/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:04 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: I know you all welcomed her back on Monday when I wasn’t here, but it is great to have Jamie Smith back, a new mom, and a new, proud mom at that. If you haven't seen her little girl, she is beautiful, truly beautiful. So it’s great to have Jamie back. And it’s great to be here. (Laughter.) Now she’s going to have to go straight to daycare and check in on her. (Laughter.) I remember how that felt.
It’s great to be back here with you today. I have, before I take your questions, just a couple of things I want to note for you.
First, on Tuesday, August 6th, the President will travel to the Phoenix, Arizona area, to continue talking with Americans about his better bargain for the middle class. On Tuesday in Tennessee, the President laid out one cornerstone of that vision, a plan to create good jobs that pay decent wages by investing in manufacturing and infrastructure. Next week in Arizona, the President will lay out his plan to continue to help responsible homeowners and those Americans who seek to own their own homes as another cornerstone of how we can strengthen the middle class in America.
That afternoon, the President will then travel to Burbank, California, to tape an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The following day, Wednesday, August 7th -- there’s a Leno fan in the front row I can tell. (Laughter.) The following day, on Wednesday, August 7th, the President will travel to Camp Pendleton to visit with troops and their families and to thank them for their extraordinary service to our nation.
My next announcement is in here somewhere -- I thought. So with that -- it’s not a big one -- (laughter) -- it’s just a meeting I'm sure you’d be interested in. No, I just wanted to note -- and I will as much as I can off the cuff that today is the 49th anniversary of Medicare, and millions and millions of Americans -- senior citizens -- have led richer and healthier lives because of this extraordinary program and its success.
The President has, through a number of actions, and most noticeably, through the Affordable Care Act, strengthened Medicare and provided more benefits to seniors. And we are seeing a reduction in the growth rate of costs in Medicare, historic change in that growth rate, and we've seen it, obviously, in the private sector health care market as well. And that is a direct benefit of the Affordable Care Act as we implement it. And so that is a welcome thing.
We have over the years experienced debates about Medicare, calls to see it wither on the vine by some, efforts to turn it into a voucher program, essentially efforts to disrupt, dismantle and, in some ways, ultimately defeat Medicare. And I think Americans overwhelmingly have rejected those efforts. The President strongly believes in the program and he knows that most in Congress do as well.
And with that we go to the Associated Press -- Julie Pace. How are you, Julie?
Q Thank you. I'm well. Why did the President go to the Hill today and only meet with Democrats, given that his own party is largely supportive of his agenda but it's Republicans that he is having trouble convincing to back some of his proposals?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President had a good meeting on Capitol Hill with House and Senate Democrats -- good meetings, rather. And to go to your question, the President, I think as all of you have noted in your coverage, has been meeting with and talking with and trying to persuade in an effort to find common ground numerous Republican lawmakers, and that effort continues daily and weekly, both at his level and at the senior level here at the White House.
I think the Chief of Staff, I think as has been noted, is having a meeting today with Republican senators who have in the past in their conversations with the President expressed an interest in trying to find common ground on budget and fiscal matters. And those conversations, as you know, have been encouraging, but they have yet to produce a counterproposal from Republicans that mirrors the kind of compromise that the President put forth in great detail in his budget and in his offer to the Speaker of the House right at the beginning of the year -- or the end of last year.
So we're in ongoing conversations with the Republicans, and that will continue. And the President will continue to meet and speak with Republican lawmakers as he tries to work with them to advance the greatest cause we have economically, which is the cause of growing and expanding the middle class.
Q And in some of the readouts from some of the House Democrats, in particular, they mention that the President faced some questions about possibly nominating Larry Summers to run the Fed -- pushback from Democrats -- and that he offered a defense of Summers. Can you confirm that exchange and tell us a little bit more about what the President said about Summers?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wasn't with the President, I was in meetings here, although I have had a full readout about it. And I would simply say that, as would be the case if I were asked about a senior member of the President's economic team, as Larry Summers was during the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, who stood shoulder to shoulder with the President and other members of that team in working out responses to that crisis, the President would defend that individual, as I would. And Larry Summers's service here was extremely helpful to the President, as he made decisions and put forth the policies that helped reverse the tragic economic decline that this country faced in the beginning of 2009. And he is certainly very grateful for Larry's service with him.
So I think you ought to take those kinds of statements and view them as what we would say -- the President or I or others would say -- about somebody who was such an important and hardworking member of the President's economic team, and separate them from speculation about a personnel announcement that will not be made before fall and upon which the President has not made a decision.
Q But he was making his comments in the meeting today in response to some criticism from --
MR. CARNEY: My understanding is that there is criticism of Larry Summers, and the President, of course, as I would and others would, defended Larry's tenure here at the White House and his service to the country and to the President in extraordinarily trying financial and economic times.
Q And then just finally, is there any White House assessment or reaction to the Bradley Manning verdict?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'll say a couple of things about that. First, the case itself is ongoing in terms of the sentencing phase, so I'm not going to get ahead of that, and I would refer you the Department of Defense for details of where that process stands.
Q Jay, the President has now given two major economic speeches. Do you feel like you're getting any closer to concrete action in Congress?
MR. CARNEY: The President's out there making the case that we need to, here in Washington, focus on what the American people are focused on, which is the need to make sure that good jobs, middle-class jobs, well-paying jobs, are available in industries that will stay here in the United States and help our overall economic growth; that Americans are able to achieve that part of the American Dream that is about homeownership -- and that’s what the President will be discussing next week in Phoenix.
He'll also talk about the importance of education to our economic growth and the importance of education to middle-class families and those families that aspire to the middle class. And he greatly believes that that’s where the American people are, that’s what their focus is, and that if Washington were to focus its energies on finding solutions to those challenges that face the middle class, that we could get some substantial things done.
The President gave a speech yesterday in Chattanooga -- a certain person's hometown -- that would be Steve Holland, right?
Q It was good to be there.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, and it was good to have you on the trip. But the President, in his speech in Chattanooga yesterday, as you know, Steve, spoke about a proposition he is making to Congress, to Republicans in Congress, that would essentially focus our energies from the grand bargain that we've debating now for a couple of years on deficit reduction and fiscal issues to a grand bargain for the middle class. And he's offering to install policies that would have our business tax code reformed and create benefits for business through that reform, and to use the one-time proceeds from that process to invest in infrastructure and development and manufacturing and education, in ways that will enhance -- strengthen the middle class, provide jobs to the middle class, and strengthen our overall economic growth.
And these are goals that he believes Democrats and Republicans share -- both the need to reform our business tax code and the need to invest in these important areas of our economy. And hopefully -- and we’ve seen some positive reaction, and hopefully we’ll be able to move forward with that proposal. Because it doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t continue to pursue a bigger deal on our deficit reduction issues, but we have obvious stalemates there when it comes to that and we should, even as we -- the President’s offer is on the table when it comes to deficit reduction and a balanced approach to deficit reduction. We need to take action now on jobs and growth and opportunity for the middle class.
Q But given the reaction from the Republicans yesterday, isn’t it going to be difficult to change hearts and minds in this area?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t think the reaction was universal. I mean, we did see some predictable reaction from some quarters, which is that anything the President proposes is instinctively opposed by some Republicans, often before the President actually gets the words out of his mouth in the proposition. And that’s unfortunate.
But the fact is there is broader support out there for business tax code reform. And there is broader support out there -- and by broader I mean not just in Washington and in Congress, but broader support out there for the kind of investments we need to make in our infrastructure for the future and in our manufacturing sector, which is resilient but needs to be invested in further so that it can produce the kind of high-paying jobs or well-paying jobs that the middle class can depend on.
Q And lastly, Egypt’s military rulers are threatening to move against these vigils by the Muslim Brotherhood. Are you concerned about a fresh outbreak of violence there? And what can you do?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have condemned the violence that we’ve seen. We are expressing our concerns about violence to all sides in Egypt, and that will continue to be the case. We’ve also made clear that we oppose arbitrary arrests and detentions, and believe that those who have been arrested and not charged should be released.
We’re in constant conversation with the transitional government in Egypt, and we believe it’s important for Egypt’s future that the leaders of that transitional government fulfill the claims they made about their intentions of moving Egypt back toward a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible, and one that is reflective of the broad desires of the Egyptian populous and not just a segment of that population.
Q I know you weren’t in the meeting with the President up on the Hill, but I understand somebody on your staff was. So would you like to take an opportunity to respond to some of the reports that the President was testy in particular in response to a question from Representative Maloney, and that in response to something that was a joke he offered a response that was not very jokey?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I have been read out on the meetings and briefed on the meetings, and that is not my understanding at all. And, in fact, the President was very appreciative of the question. I think the question got into specifics about a program, and the President not only said his staff would follow up on it but he guaranteed that the President’s staff would follow up on it. He was very glad to see the interest in these kinds of programs that was expressed by the Congressman.
Q I don’t know if you’ve addressed Summers already --
MR. CARNEY: I have, but if you want -- I got that question earlier.
Q Should we read anything into the fact that he’s addressing it behind closed doors but won’t talk about it publicly?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure that’s the case. You’re I think misunderstanding a little bit what the President was doing, which is if you were to level criticism at one of the President’s top advisors on economics -- especially somebody like Larry who played such a key role in the process that led to policies that helped turn around the worst recession since the Great Depression -- you would have from me a very stout defense. And I think that’s what the President was doing today.
Q How about the fact that the whispering campaign against Janet Yellin has what seems, at least to me, a rather charged tone to it -- charges that sound somewhat gendered in nature?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not aware of that. I would simply say that the President has not made a decision on this matter. We don't engage in speculation about personnel decisions that the President is going to make. And when he has an announcement, we’ll make sure we get it to you, but as I think has been said by others, do not expect that announcement before fall.
Q But he wouldn’t want to offer a similar -- you wouldn’t want to offer a similar defense of Janet Yellin’s qualifications for the job --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know -- obviously, the Fed is an independent body, so we’re a little more careful about how we discuss the Fed. But I don't -- I’m not aware of any specific charges about performance or qualifications. And, again, I think I have to be careful about people on an independent body, that when it comes to the people who serve on the President’s staff, I have a little more leeway.
Q Since it is pretty well known that the President and the Republicans may agree on corporate tax cuts but they vehemently disagree on how, if there’s any extra money, that money might be spent, why did the President bother offering this as a bargain when it was so summarily rejected? Was he trying to make a political point? And if so, what point was he trying to make?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, you're wrong that it was summarily rejected. There were some Republicans who, before they had seen it, dismissed it. There were some who said they heard about it on wires when in fact they had been contacted by the White House and --
Q Are there any prominent names you know of that have supported it?
MR. CARNEY: I’ve heard of senators who, let me just say, who are open to this. Because Republicans in general I think, as is the business community, are supportive of the need to reform our business tax code. Republicans in general are supportive of the need to invest in our infrastructure and to invest in the manufacturing sector. So what the President is trying to do with his proposal is marry those two ideas and couple them together and move forward.
When it comes to the proceeds that would be produced from reform of our business tax code, one-time proceeds, yes, the President believes we ought to invest in the middle class. We ought to invest -- if we’re reforming the tax code in a way that benefits business -- and it does, and that's why business wants it -- we should invest in those who work for those businesses, as well. And we ought to use the proceeds that come from that kind of reform and invest in either infrastructure or manufacturing or other sectors of our economy that can directly benefit the middle class.
And that is I think a sound proposition that the President put forward, and we believe that there is an openness to this by members of Congress. And the President looks forward to a discussion about this grand bargain or better bargain for the middle class that he’s talking about.
Q Jay, I think it’s a fair follow-up to ask you, since you’ve now said twice that there are Republicans who support this, I haven’t seen any publicly.
MR. CARNEY: I said that the reception has been not uniform in the way that you said. I have seen Republicans express openness to the ideas. They’ve asked for more specifics. But the sort of knee-jerk reaction to anything that President Obama proposes that we saw from some quarters is not reflective of all Republicans on Capitol Hill. How could it be when they support business tax reform and they support investments in infrastructure?
The issue has been how to pay for those investments. The President is proposing a way forward that provides action on an item of great interest to Republicans, as well as action on an item of interest to Democrats and Republicans when it comes to investments infrastructure or manufacturing.
So I’ll let members of Congress speak for themselves, but we believe that there is support for this. Whether that means Congress will act, we’ll have to see. But the President’s whole point is that we ought to be focusing our attention on how we can move forward on an agenda that helps the middle class.
And you’ve asked me -- you broadly have asked me in the past, yes, the President has put forward a compromise proposal on a so-called grand bargain for long-term deficit reduction, and the Republicans have yet to come back with a compromise -- isn’t there a stalemate because they don't want any more revenues and you won’t go along with a package that doesn't include revenues?
And there’s no question that that remains in a static place right now, even as we continue to have conversations. And the President believes that we can't accept that and not act in other areas. And that's why we can do what he did yesterday, which was propose an alternative course of action where he believes there can be common ground found and we can agree to reform our business tax code and make these crucial investments in the middle class.
Q Just one more follow on Egypt, if you don't mind. Senators McCain and Graham, are they going to Egypt at the White House's behest? And what message will they be taking with them, if so?
MR. CARNEY: I, first of all, don't have details on the discussions the President has with members of Congress. He has, as you know, met with Senators Graham and McCain on a number of occasions and he did have a long discussion with them on national security issues not that long ago.
All I can say is that we will continue to consult with Congress on Egypt. And those two senators, in particular, obviously have traveled the world extensively on delegations like this, on trips like this, and wouldn’t find that very unusual. But we will consult with them and with other members of Congress about what's happening in Egypt and about our policy moving forward in Egypt.
Q If you promise to come back, I'll defer to my colleagues in the back rows.
MR. CARNEY: Let's hear it for Major Garrett. Back row -- Chris.
Q Thanks, Jay. I want to talk about the issue of LGBT workplace discrimination once more. I know when I've asked you questions about the White House issuing an executive order to address this issue before, you said that the administration prefers a legislative push of the issue. But can you explain to me why you think they're mutually exclusive? Can't the President sign an executive order and then pursue a legislative solution at the same time?
MR. CARNEY: You know, Chris, I think it's a fair question, but I have answered it. And one thing I noted recently is that we saw some progress on the legislation, ENDA, in Congress as it was passed out of committee. And the President supports that and welcomes it, and will continue to work with Congress to move forward with that. He continues to think that's the best approach in addressing these issues.
Q Even as this legislative process is underway, discrimination is still happening. In this past month, two transgender victims of discrimination won damages for discrimination based on a job. One was a federal contractor. Doesn't this continued discrimination demonstrate the need for immediate action from the administration?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President opposes discrimination, as you know. And the President is pursuing a path that he thinks has the best chance of success, which is trying to get Congress to pass ENDA, the legislative action that he supports.
Q Another idea that's being talked about is the Labor Department enforcing the existing executive order protecting gender discrimination in a way that also protects transgender workers. There was a report in Buzzfeed earlier this month saying the White House forbade the Labor Department from enforcing that existing executive order in this way. Are you aware of this issue and do you deny --
MR. CARNEY: I'm not aware of that report. I think our position is clear. I don't have any updates on it for you. We support the legislation that has moved forward, importantly, in one house of Congress and we'll continue to make that support known.
Q One last question, I swear.
MR. CARNEY: He should get a seat up in the front row, don't you think? (Laughter.)
Q We all should.
Q Did the President, in the meeting with the Senate Democratic caucus, did he encourage lawmakers to move forward on this with senators today.
MR. CARNEY: I wasn't in the meetings; I don't have the full readout. But the President's position on this issue is well known. It is one he expresses frequently in his conversations with lawmakers of both parties. And we will continue to push for action on that legislation.
Q You understand, I'm sure, Jay, that in the context of what has become an interesting and publicly heavily discussed battle, if you will put it that way, between Janet Yellin and Larry Summers, the President offering defense can be interpreted or might be interpreted as stacking the deck in his favor. What you're trying to tell us, I gather, is that whatever he says in the context of this question should be interpreted only about his service at the White House, and not about what may or may not happen in the Fed.
MR. CARNEY: Yes. I'm saying he was asked -- I think he was asked about criticism of one of his former top economic advisors, and as I would and as any member of the President's team would --
Q Why not say he’s someone I'm looking at and I would be --
MR. CARNEY: Because I don't think the President is going to discuss lists, long or short, about --
Q He's not going to talk about anyone.
MR. CARNEY: -- personnel decisions that he hasn't made. But I think Larry Summers served here as head of the National Economic Council during the most catastrophically difficult economic times that most of us have seen in our lifetimes. And he was very much a part of a team that advised the President as the President made some extremely important decisions about how to move our country out of economic abyss and towards growth and job creation. And the President appreciates his service at the President's side.
Q For the process of making a decision, does the President believe this intense conversation, this intense curiosity, this almost unprecedented level of almost campaigning is helpful to the process?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not aware of any of what you -- obviously, I see reports in the press. I'm not sure about campaigning. What happens externally on all matters involving personnel decisions that the President makes is infinitely less important to the President's decision-making process than the advice and counsel he gets in private and to the decisions he makes on his own. And that will be the case with this matter.
Q Philosophically, having nothing to do with the choice, does the President believe --
MR. CARNEY: We're still talking about something that I can't talk about, right? Okay. (Laughter.)
Q Philosophically -- and he indicated as such in The New York Times interview, so I think it's fair game --
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q -- that the Fed chair should -- because Ben Bernanke has, in the midst of the economic crisis and going forward, remained not just an abstract and sort of technical monitor of inflation and the traditional Fed money supply, currency strength issues, but a much larger, broader player in the entire economic policy of the country?
MR. CARNEY: You're asking me did the President say that?
Q Does he believe that?
MR. CARNEY: I think he said it. But that's a broad evaluation I think that reflects a common understanding of the position and the Federal Reserve. But I'm just not going to expand upon what the President has said about it.
Q On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it feels as if the talks have -- obviously the talks have started, but they are in some ways something the President has always resisted, talks about talks, that they’re sort of trying to lay the foundation for something that may achieve a breakthrough at some point in the future. Would you say that's a fair evaluation -- and a concession, not one the President and the administration wanted to make but had to make just to get the process back in some direction other than stalemate?
MR. CARNEY: In terms of the President’s views on this kind of process, I'm not sure I agree with that. I think the President views the progress that has been made thus far as important. He views this challenge realistically, understanding the history and the difficulties faced in any effort to bring the two parties together, and any effort to bring those negotiations to full resolution.
But as I think my colleague said on Monday, Mr. Earnest, he said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step, and you have to get to where we are first before you can move forward from there. And the President commends the courage and leadership of those who have come thus far, and in his meeting yesterday with negotiators, encouraged them to keep making progress. But he is very mindful of the challenges here, and we understand, and he understands that there is a great distance to travel.
Q Well, would you concede we're not talking about the final status issues; we're talking about a process that might get to those kind of discussions?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn't necessarily disagree with the fact that we're at a very early stage here, and I wouldn't disagree with any suggestion that every stage along the way presents significant obstacles. But it is important to get where we've gotten, and we will play a role in encouraging the parties to continue to move forward.
Q Jay, a couple on national security and then I want to talk health care. NSA issued -- the Director of National Intelligence declassified some telephone metadata documents today. I just wonder if you could characterize from the White House perspective, is this it? Is this all you're putting out? Or do you think, the administration, this is sort of the beginning of a new bit of openness and transparency that Senator Wyden and others have asked for?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple of things about that -- as I look for my documents here -- which is the President believes that we need to have a conversation about the balance that he has sought and he believes we have reached in our need to take action to protect ourselves and our need to make sure that we are minding our security and our need for privacy. So he welcomes the discussion that has begun in the wake of the unauthorized classified leaks that have occurred. And he has encouraged those within the community to look at programs and see where we can be as transparent as possible. So that's one step.
I don’t have further announcements to make about where this conversation and this process goes forward, except that the President has instructed his team to look for ways to be, when it comes to the 215 program, to be as open as possible, mindful of the classified nature of these programs.
Q I want to ask you about Benghazi, because CNN says one of its reporters sat down with someone who may be a lead suspect in the terror attack for two hours recently, and this potential suspect says they've never been contacted by the Libyan government and they've never been contacted by the FBI. How is it that someone who's potentially a lead suspect in this terror attack could sit down with a media organization for a couple of hours and never be contacted by the FBI? How serious is this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the FBI for details of their investigation. I'm not aware of anything beyond what you just said in terms of that report. So the President has absolutely instructed his team to do everything they can to bring to justice those who are responsible for the deaths of four Americans. And that has been his priority from day one, as he made clear from day one. And he will make that clear repeatedly as he's updated on this process.
But in terms of that specific report, I would refer you to the FBI.
Q Quick one on health care. Some Democrats who were in the meetings with the President today -- you were asked about other topics so I just want to get this one in -- they said the President gave a pretty vigorous defense of his health care law, and it was made clear he was going to back Democrats up on this issue and he's going to obviously help implement it. But specifically, some Democrats were saying that he was talking about how critics are going to maybe go into these August town hall meetings with members of Congress and really try to attack the law, and he's trying to arm them with facts and push back. And I guess my question would be how concerned is the White House about this August period where lawmakers go home? The law is about to be -- the deadline is coming up for October 1st. How concerned are you that critics of the law who are already out there screaming about it are going to use the August town hall meetings to undermine the law, and what are you going to do to push back?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would -- again, without having been in the meeting -- would say that the President is very interested in, and HHS is very interested, we are all very interested in making sure that members of Congress of both parties have the facts about implementation, have the facts about the benefits that have already begun to be delivered to the American people -- millions and millions of Americans, including seniors who get assistance with their prescription drug costs, millions of Americans who have free preventive care, millions of children who can no longer be denied insurance because they have a preexisting condition, millions of young Americans who are now able to stay on their parent's insurance policies because of the Affordable Care Act.
And as implementation proceeds -- and it is proceeding -- more and more Americans will experience the benefits that come with implementation. So we're absolutely interested in making sure that members of Congress as well as the American people are informed as the process of enrollment begins and implementation continues.
Q Last follow-up. Officials in Georgia and Florida are out today saying that they're worried about rate -- premium spikes for their residents. The state of Georgia last night, as I understand it, put in an emergency appeal to extend the October 1st deadline for about a month. And the CBO has a report, and they're independent, saying that it’s going to cost something like $12 billion to delay some of the implementation that the President had talked about --
MR. CARNEY: Well, those are two separate issues. Let me address the premium issue, or insurance rates, and my understanding is that neither Florida, nor Georgia has released the premiums, and the statistics released recently do not provide consumers with any information on what they will actually pay in the marketplace. And in fact, we are consistently seeing in states across the country that premiums are lower than expected.
I’ve made note of that. Absent questions from you or others about it, I’ve sort of volunteered that information. In 11 states that HHS has studied, premiums were, on average, almost 20 percent lower than what the Congressional Budget Office projected. And we are confident that Florida’s premiums will be affordable and that consumers will have multiple options in a competitive and transparent marketplace.
When it comes to the delay of the implementation of the employer responsibility provision, the fact is this affects a very small percentage of businesses, and it reflects our effort to be flexible in the implementation of the law and to listen to the concerns of businesses.
The fact is that in its projections, the overall positive effect on the deficit that implementation of the Affordable Care Act will bring about remains the same. That includes a deficit reduction in the first 10 years and enormous deficit reduction in the second 10 years. So I think it’s important to keep your eye on the bigger picture here -- both the mindfulness of the concerns of businesses as we implement the law and the fact that there will be substantial deficit reduction as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.
We are also seeing, again, as I mentioned at the top referring to Medicare, some of the slowest growth in the health care costs in years, and that is attributable in large measure to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Q Jay, you mentioned that the President will be traveling next week to southern California. In San Diego, an eighth woman has now come forward alleging sexual misconduct against the Mayor of that city, Bob Filner, a former member of Congress, a Democrat. Does the White House have any new statements on this given the high-profile nature of --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know that we’ve had any old statements. The President is traveling to Camp Pendleton, which is not in San Diego, it’s outside. And I don’t have anything on that.
Q So I guess the question would be why not on that topic when so many leading Democrats have spoken out and the President himself has spoken out to members of the armed services very publicly given the circumstances taking place there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’re talking about separate issues here. He’s Commander-in-Chief -- he doesn’t oversee municipalities.
Q And the head of the Democratic Party.
MR. CARNEY: Be that as it may, I don’t have comment on that any more than I’ve had comment on other similar issues.
Q The only other question would be -- we just heard that the Secretary of State, John Kerry, has landed in Pakistan today. I want to get a sense from you what message the White House is hoping is delivered there and what they hope to accomplish by this first trip there by Secretary Kerry.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it reflects the significant amount of travel that the Secretary is putting in as Secretary of State in these first months of his tenure.
Our relationship with Pakistan is extremely important to America’s national security interests. It is a complicated but important relationship, as we’ve discussed in the past here. And I’m sure that Secretary Kerry will be having discussions with the Pakistanis about developments in their country, our joint efforts to fight terrorism -- and, as you know, Pakistanis have been among the most significant victims of terrorist attacks -- and also our efforts in Afghanistan. So I’m sure those will be among the topics of conversation that the Secretary will engage in.
Q Jay, in his speech again yesterday, President Obama mentioned the phony scandals that are part of an endless parade of distractions. Can you tell us what phony scandals he’s talking about?
MR. CARNEY: I think we all remember a few weeks ago when Washington was consumed with a variety of issues that, while in some cases significant, there was an effort underway to turn them into partisan scandals. I don’t think anybody here would doubt that. And what we’ve seen as time has passed and more facts have become known -- whether it’s about the attacks in Benghazi and the talking points, or revelations about conduct at the IRS -- that attempts to turn this into a scandal have failed.
And when it comes to the IRS, as I said the other morning, the President made very clear that he will -- that he wants the new leadership there to take action to correct improper conduct, and that is happening and he expects results.
What some in Congress have failed to do despite many attempts is to provide any evidence -- because there is none -- that that activity was in any way known by, or directed by, the White House, or was even partisan or political. As testimony has shown that I’ve seen produced publicly in the press -- although not by the Republican chairman of the committee -- self-identified Republicans who participated in the reviews of these applications for tax-exempt status clearly denied that there was any -- and this is just them saying this -- that there was any partisan or political motivation to what they were doing.
That doesn't excuse the conduct, doesn't say that it’s the right thing to do. It means that we have to address poor performance as poor performance, and reject efforts to turn it into yet another partisan political football.
And I think our views -- and I would wax poetic on it if you want -- our views on the Benghazi issue are well known, and I think that other issues fall into that.
Q So you mentioned two -- the IRS and Benghazi.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to catalogue -- again, I think there was a period where there was -- a lot more energy and focus was paid by some in Congress as well as in the media on issues that, while important, are not of the highest priority to the American people, and they were not scandals.
Q I’m going to try something with my French accent. New York is a city which is watched by people from all over the world. So at this moment, what’s happening in New York is watched by people from all over the world.
MR. CARNEY: I can't imagine where you're going with this. (Laughter.)
Q I mean, President Obama has inspired people from all over the world. So you don’t have the need to say something about the political circus in New York, or you don’t see --
MR. CARNEY: No, we don’t. (Laughter.) The President is focused on what we can do here in Washington to help the middle class, to help the economy grow, to help regular folks out in the country have the resources they need to send their kids to college; have what they need even if they're not rich for a secure retirement; have what they need, the tools they need, to achieve that part of the American Dream that is associated with homeownership. And that’s his focus.
And I think I was asked this question the other day -- I'm not sure if my colleague was. We just have no comment on it. There's plenty of coverage -- plenty of stuff to cover without us commenting.
Q So you don’t think that when a politician is saying something, is doing something else, and when he's refusing --
MR. CARNEY: No, I don’t. In fact, I think that, going to my answer to Mark's question, I think that the President believes we ought to be focused here on the substantive issues that most Americans want their elected officials and their unelected officials in Washington to be focused on.
Q -- today revealed details of another NSA
top-secret program -- this one called X-Keyscore, and it allows analysts to search not just metadata but the content of emails, search history without prior approval. Did the administration let members -- any members of Congress know about this before today?
MR. CARNEY: As we've explained, and the intelligence community has explained, allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are false. Access to all of NSA's analytic tools is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks. And there are multiple technical manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent those who don’t have access from achieving that access.
For further information, I'd refer you to the intelligence community.
Q The question was, were there any members of Congress who were informed about the existence of X-Keyscore?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the question was frontloaded with assertions that I had an answer to --
Q -- the details of this program which were revealed today. But the question is, were there any members of Congress who were informed before today about the existence of the program or its capabilities?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the intelligence community, to the ODNI for more information about that.
Q But in the past, the administration has used the fact that it's informed members of Congress as justification for these surveillance programs. Are you not able to give us an assurance that Congress --
MR. CARNEY: I'd would refer you -- I'm saying that I don’t know the answer to that, and I would refer you to the intelligence community --
Q So you don’t know whether Congress was informed?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you to the intelligence community. What I did do is assert that some of the claims made in that article are false. So informing people about false claims isn't necessarily what we do.
Q Given that the President, domestically and abroad, so often speaks about respect for women, creating a society where women can function at the highest levels, doesn’t the fact that there are high-level controversies involving objectification and in some cases harassment of women involving the Democratic Party -- doesn’t the President's silence say something in and of itself?
MR. CARNEY: Ari, no. The President is focused on what we can do for the middle class in this country, what we can do to help the economy grow, what we can do together through a grand bargain for the middle class to reform our business tax code in a way that’s beneficial for American businesses and in a way that allows us to invest in the economy so that it helps the middle class grow and be more secure.
I understand the allure of issues like this in the media, but it is not what -- and I do understand it, and I’m not being critical of it. But I’m saying that the President believes his job is not to comment on those issues, but to focus on what he can do to get this economy growing faster and creating more jobs. That is his fundamental preoccupation right now, and it will be for every of the 1,269 days I believe left in his presidency.
Alexis, and then Mark.
Q Just following up on the use of August as a communications moment in time, can you say whether the Cabinet members -- the President just saw them at Camp David -- whether they're going to be traveling in August to communicate about the agenda or use their chance in public --
MR. CARNEY: I don't know Cabinet members’ schedules, so I would refer you to the agencies. This was not a topic of conversation at Camp David.
Q Jay, we understand that among the things the President said in the meeting on the Hill this morning was that he wasn’t sure yet that they were deep policy differences between the candidates for the Fed job. If that's the case, then can you tell us what criteria he will use to make a decision between three or four people, all of whom presumably have equally glittering resumes?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have a confirmation for you on the length of any list or who is being considered. I can tell you the President hasn’t made a decision and won’t before the fall. We won’t have an announcement before the fall. And I think that's -- I think by telling you that, which is a little more than we generally tell you about the personnel process, is to encourage everybody to not anticipate something imminent here.
Beyond that I don't have anything more than what the President has said publicly about this matter, because it’s the kind of decision that he needs to make in consultation with his advisors and according to his own assessments about the job and the personnel who might fill it.
Q But the President seemed to be suggesting that the names that were out there, which he wasn’t disputing, are people who are not sharply divided --
MR. CARNEY: Let’s just posit that we’re having a conversation about a conversation that neither of us heard and so are secondhand reports. So I’m not going to -- especially on this matter -- engage in a lot of speculation about what was said except to say that the President doesn't have an announcement to make anytime soon. When he does, we’ll let you know.
Q Thanks. Do you have any comparable timeline guidance on Keystone? In other words, should we expect to wait until after September 30th, or the fall, or something like that?
MR. CARNEY: I have no updates on that for you. I would refer you to the State Department.
Q And I have a Middle East question also. Can you give us any more information about a report that the President gave letters of assurance to both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: I didn't see that report. I think we gave a readout of the meeting that the President had.
Q Didn’t address the letters.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I didn't see a report about any letters. The President -- I think we were pretty clear in our readout. The President thanked them for the progress they have made, encouraged them to make more progress, made clear, with Secretary Kerry and our Special Envoy Martin Indyk, as well as Middle East Coordinator Phil Gordon that we would be working with them and facilitating this effort, and that he obviously would be engaged in it as well, as he has been, beginning most recently with this visit to the Middle East, which really jumpstarted this process. But beyond that I have no more specifics.
Q Thanks, Jay.
Q Can I just quickly ask you on Yemen -- also the President will meet with the Yemeni President tomorrow. The White House has put up some sort of preview of that on paper about issues they'll discuss. But can you talk from the podium about how the United States sees its relationship with Yemen, the progress Yemen has made in the last year or so?
MR. CARNEY: Well, this will be one of the topics of conversation with President Hadi -- the progress towards reconciliation taking place within Yemen. There are obviously challenges in that country. They will also discuss our joint efforts to combat terrorism and the help and cooperation that we provide each other in those efforts, as well as issues around the clearance of some Yemeni nationals to be transferred from Guantanamo Bay. So I expect those three areas of conversation will be covered, as well as others.
Q Specific on the detainees?
MR. CARNEY: I think we put out some information on that. I don't have anything beyond that, but I can see what we have for you, Major.
Q Just going back to his meetings on the Hill today, I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit more about why he chose not to meet with the full Republican caucuses, either Senate or House. But also, you mentioned that he has been meeting and I know the Chief of Staff has been meeting with Senate Republicans. What about the House Republicans? Obviously, you must know that some leadership has complained that “why didn't he come talk to us.”
MR. CARNEY: I've seen the leadership, including the leader, Speaker Boehner, said he doesn't want to negotiate with the President. So I think that maybe you should address some of these questions to the leadership of the House in terms of --
Q But did he ask to go there?
MR. CARNEY: I think I addressed the question at the top, which is the President has been meeting with Republican lawmakers, having conversations with Republican lawmakers. It has been well covered by everybody in this room the fact that we have been deeply engaged with members of both parties on Capitol Hill as we go about the business of trying to find common ground on some of these important issues.
That includes earlier this year on efforts to reduce gun violence. It includes the ongoing efforts to reform our immigration system. It includes efforts to find common ground on our fiscal and budget issues. And now, it includes efforts to resolve how we go about reforming our tax code in a way that allows us to invest in the middle class and in economic growth.
So those efforts will continue. The fact that the President met with Democrats is reflective only of the fact that he meets with Democrats as well as Republicans. And so, those meetings will continue.
Q Is there something that's scheduled with Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any announcements to make.
Q I think just to clear up, Senator McConnell did say that he would be interested in talking and wondered why he didn't come by -- just to be clear about -- on the Senate side.
MR. CARNEY: The President has been meeting with Republicans, talking with Republicans. Senior staff and others have been talking with Republican leaders, including Senator McConnell. The conversations, we hope, will continue. And the President's hope is that they will produce results and that there will be a willingness when it comes to some of these budget issues, a willingness by Republicans to offer the kind of compromise that he has offered when it comes to long-term deficit issues.
As you all have covered, the President has put forward a plan that represents real compromise -- that represents decisions, concrete decisions laid out on paper that are hard for some Democrats to go along with. The President has demonstrated leadership in his willingness to do that in an effort to find compromise with Republicans. Republicans have yet to respond -- many months now after this proposal was put forward -- with anything similar. And yet, we continue to have those conversations and we remain hopeful that they will bear fruit.
Meanwhile, he is pursuing this other track, which is an effort to get Republicans and Democrats to agree to a bargain around reforming our business tax code, and investing in infrastructure and manufacturing in a way that helps the economy grow and helps the middle class, which he believes should be our primary focus and obsession right now when it comes to domestic policy.
Thank you all very much.
1:53 P.M. EDT
December 16, 2014
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