Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 9/16/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:34 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Thank you for adjusting to the change in schedule. We, of course, held the President’s remarks while Chief Lanier here in Washington was speaking to the press, until that concluded. And then the President spoke and we wanted to give everyone time to get back here for the briefing after that.
As the President said, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of victims and the victims themselves of the shooting in Washington. This is an unfolding event, so I will not have any specifics for you except to echo what the President said, which is we expect seamless cooperation between federal and local and military officials as this situation unfolds.
And with that, I go to the Associated Press. Jim.
Q Thanks, Jay. Your admonition taken. But I wondered if you have received any information about motive, or set aside any potential motive in this shooting. And also, reports that there are -- in fact, the Chief said there are potentially other suspects, and I’m wondering whether there are any special precautions being taken regarding the President, given if there’s a possibility of suspects still at-large.
MR. CARNEY: Well, for the second part of your question I’d refer you to the U.S. Secret Service. On the first part, this is an active investigation and an active situation, and we have no information to share with you from here. I would ask you to direct questions like that to law enforcement authorities who are on the ground and on the scene investigating this matter.
Q No doubt this incident, as others have, will likely restart debate over gun violence. I wondered where the President stands on that vis-à-vis this incident that took place.
MR. CARNEY: Well, this is an ongoing situation and we don’t have all the facts, so it’s hard to comment specifically on this situation in that regard. What is true is certainly that the President supports, as do an overwhelming majority of Americans, common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. And we have gone about implementing the executive actions that were part of the President’s plan to take action to reduce gun violence. And, obviously, he continues to support measures taken by Congress -- that could be taken by Congress to reduce gun violence in a common-sense way, like improving our background check system.
Q I wanted to ask you a question on the Fed Chairman. Yesterday, as we all know, Larry Summers withdrew from the consideration as a potential nominee for the chairmanship. A lot of the opposition to Mr. Summers had come from kind of the President’s allies -- economists, liberals, Senate Democrats. And I wondered what it says about the President’s ability to keep his liberal flank on his side on an important nomination such as this. The President had publically defended Summers, so what does it say about his loss of allies in this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. One, Larry Summers addressed some of these matters in his letter, and the President put out a statement. It is important to note, as the President did, that Larry Summers was one of the President’s key advisors in helping him make decisions during the worst financial crisis of our lifetimes, the worst financial crisis since the 1930s -- a situation in which, as he took office -- he, the President -- the nation was confronted with an economy that was shrinking at a rate of 8 percent, an economy that was shedding 800,000 jobs per month. And because of the actions taken in those early months and years, we now, five years later, have a situation where businesses have created 7.5 million jobs in 42 months, including 1.2 million jobs added this year.
The automobile industry, which was declared, essentially, dead during those early months, has come back and is selling more cars and trucks. And that industry has created 340,700 jobs since 2009. The housing market is coming back. Foreclosures are down to the lowest levels since 2006, and home sales are up by double digits.
We've doubled renewable energy production from sources like wind and solar. And for the first time in 20 years, America is poised to produce more oil than we import.
Something that has been of great debate between the President and Republicans on Capitol Hill -- the need for deficit reduction -- creates an opportunity to point out that the deficit has been cut 50 percent since the President took office. And after years of over trillion-dollar deficits, will cut the deficit in half as a share of the economy by cutting spending, winding down two wars, and beginning to ask the wealthy to pay their fair share.
All of this progress came about because of the grit and determination and resilience of the American people, and because of the actions taken in Washington in those first months and years after the terrible financial crisis hit this country.
So I think it is very important to note that Larry Summers was in that position when every decision anybody was making or recommending was given heightened scrutiny and was never universally popular -- in fact, almost universally unpopular in many cases -- but they were the right decisions. And because of those decisions that the President made with the advice of Larry and others, we have seen the progress that we've seen.
Q An argument could also be made that the Federal Reserve was significantly responsible for some of the economic turnaround. Janet Yellen was a member of the -- had been Vice Chair since 2010 and had been part of that policymaking. So isn't she as potentially responsible for some of the economic improvement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I'm not going to comment on Fed actions or policies -- never do, and won't start today. I will say that it's important to note that there are other forces at work here, principally the grit and determination and resilience of the American people in the face of this catastrophic economic situation that the country was encountering in late 2008 and early 2009.
And questions like that that get to personnel decisions that the President will announce when he's ready to announce, I'm not going to entertain with any depth. I hope you understand.
Q But again, to my initial question about the lack of support from, typically, allies of the President, why couldn’t he hold them on something as --
MR. CARNEY: The President made no nomination. Let's be clear about this. The President addressed this issue with regard to Larry Summers at a press conference, so I would point you to his comments then.
But Larry clearly was in the trenches here making some tough decisions with the President, making some tough recommendations on policy that were often not popular but proved to be the right things to do for our economy. And the President feels strongly, as he said in his statement, that Larry deserves significant credit for helping that effort.
Q Jay, was the President disappointed that Larry withdrew his candidacy?
MR. CARNEY: I would point you to the President's statement and his appreciation for Larry's service to this country, both here in the White House and in his previous years in public service.
The President, when he has an announcement, will make it. And once the President has nominated an individual, we can have a substantive briefing about the merits of that nominee. But prior to that, as is the case with all such personnel decisions, I'm not going to engage in speculation about a decision reserved for the President.
Q Was Larry Summers's decision to withdraw entirely his own, or did the White House ask him to do so?
MR. CARNEY: I think Mr. Summers made clear that he chose to do this.
Q Does the White House regret not having reached out to Democrats earlier on Capitol Hill?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think I addressed this in part in answer to Jim's question. The President feels strongly that Larry provided significant service and valuable advice during the worst economic crisis facing this country and anybody's lifetime in this room.
Q The question is about the White House's role, not what Larry did. Whether the White House could have done more for helping what appears to have been his preferred candidate.
MR. CARNEY: I think that Larry addressed this in his letter about the complexities that we are encountering right now at this challenging time. And I wouldn't disagree with that. But what I think is important to note is what the President noted, which is that Larry chose to serve here at a time when the decisions made about policy on our economy were going to be looked at for years and decades, and scrutinized very closely.
And it was certainly possible that given the circumstances we were in -- economic free fall, talk of nationalizing banks, talk of 25 percent unemployment -- that the decisions that were made here in Washington would not have stopped that disastrous economic situation, would not have reversed it. But fortunately, because of the actions taken and because of the grit and determination and resilience of the American people --
Q That's not the question, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to -- why would I walk back the cat on a bunch of process questions about what conversations could have been had? I'm not going to do that. You can obviously address questions about potential support or lack of support for potential nominees to members of Congress. But when it comes to making tough decisions and giving advice in critical situations, the President appreciates what Larry did here.
Q Do you have any sense of a timetable now that a top candidate has withdrawn, or when he will make this decision?
MR. CARNEY: It remains what the President said and what we have said, that he expects to have an announcement in the fall. And calendar watchers will note that we are still in the summer.
Q But not Larry Summers. (Laughter.)
Q On the Navy Yard shooting, I understand this is still an unfolding event and we don't know all the details. But the President himself just now at the top of his remarks talked about how we're confronting another mass shooting. So just to be clear, is there an expectation in the White House that this kind of an event is something that could prompt a renewed White House push for these gun control measures that we know the President supports?
MR. CARNEY: I think what I just said remains true just a few minutes later, which is this is an ongoing investigation. It's an ongoing situation on the ground. And there are law enforcement officials right now dealing with this, doing everything they can to make sure people here in Washington are safe, people around the incident are safe. So it would be inappropriate to try to put in context something about which we have so few facts.
Q It just seemed that he was beginning to do that when he said we're confronting another mass shooting.
MR. CARNEY: I think he said that we have another mass shooting. I think by definition, when you have multiple fatalities, which is what was described by the Chief of Police here in Washington, D.C., that is a mass shooting. That's a fact. What the other facts are, we don't know yet. And we will await information about those facts.
Q And on the Hill, when it comes to these coming battles -- the budget battle, the debt ceiling -- how involved is the administration in terms of White House officials, a team -- how involved is the administration in working out an agreement on the CR? For instance, sending folks to the Hill, meetings on the Hill? Or is there a kind of a hands-off approach using the bully pulpit?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we have been engaged all year long in conversations with lawmakers of both parties of both houses. And we have, as noted by many of you here, been engaged in detailed meetings and conversations at the level of the President and at many other levels with Republican lawmakers who have expressed some interest in the President's goal of finding common ground on these budget issues, achieving an agreement that reduces our deficit beyond the reduction brought about by the sequester, replaces the sequester with a balanced plan; that makes tough choices when it comes to reforms, but also makes sure that we continue to invest in the areas of the economy that we know help it grow -- investments in infrastructure and research, investments in education.
And unfortunately, what we have seen thus far from Republicans is either no response, no counter offer, or an assertion that the right way to help the middle class is to cut education spending; that the right way to help the middle class is to starve our investments in infrastructure or starve our investments in research and development. That's just not the right way to go about helping our economy grow and create jobs for the middle class.
So the President has been engaged all year long in an effort to find common ground, and his willingness to do that remains, as he made clear in the interview he gave to ABC over the weekend. But it is incumbent upon Republicans to demonstrate a similar willingness to find common ground and to not threaten to either shut down the government or default for the first time in our history out of pique that they can't get what they want in an ideological agenda. That's just not the right way to do things, and it’s certainly not right for the American people.
Q Jay, the U.N. is out with their report on the chemical weapons use in Syria. I was wondering if the White House has any reaction to that and how this might play into the negotiations.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are reviewing the report that was released recently by the United Nations. And what we know already is that the U.N. team has confirmed that chemical weapons, as we said, were used on a relatively large scale near Damascus on August 21st, and that the attack resulted in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians.
The U.N. states that blood samples tested positive for sarin gas. The U.N. also states that it collected a clear -- collected, rather, clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the attack.
Now, as we've discussed many times, the U.N. has been clear that its mandate was not to determine responsibility. The findings in the report, however, do support the conclusion the world already reached based on overwhelming evidence that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack on August 21st.
This information comes at a time when the United States has made great progress in our effort to put Assad’s chemical weapons under international control so that they can be ultimately destroyed. And the progress that we've made thus far could not have been achieved without the threat of force and President Obama’s decision to explore this diplomatic path. The credible threat of military action brought Russia to the table, helped produce this agreement, and forced Assad to finally acknowledge his regime’s chemical weapons and agree to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.
It is worth noting that a week ago today, I believe, President Assad, in a taped interview, appeared on a network claiming that Syria did not have chemical weapons. That's been quite a week of change in the Syrian position.
Q So just to be clear, connecting the dots here, the report itself obviously doesn’t assign blame because it wasn’t -- but given the evidence laid out in that report, you're saying it makes it clear that Assad was behind it?
MR. CARNEY: I'm saying that the answer to that is, yes, that it reinforces what we believe is already overwhelming evidence not only that a chemical weapons attack occurred on a large scale, that sarin nerve agent was used, and that the only group capable of delivering that attack, both in the means that it was delivered, through surface-to-surface rockets, and using the agent that was used was the Assad regime.
And even though the U.N. mandate obviously was not to assign responsibility but to just come to the conclusion that chemical weapons were or were not used, the information provided in that report that the sarin nerve agent was delivered on rockets -- surface-to-surface rockets that only the Assad regime has -- I think makes clear responsibility and reinforces the position that we've taken now for some time.
Q There are reports that while all the attention has been on what was going on in Geneva, that over the past week the Syrian government has stepped up its attacks on rebel areas; more than a thousand people killed just over the past week. Is there concern that while we're all focused on this one very important aspect, the chemical weapons issue, that Assad is consolidating his grip on power and his crackdown on the rebels?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple of things. One is, our position in support of the opposition, our policy of providing assistance to the opposition, including to the military opposition, remains unchanged. We have stepped up that assistance and we will continue to step it up. Our view that the only way this conflict can be resolved is through political negotiation remains unchanged. And that's a view that we share with the Russians.
The issue of the use of chemical weapons in violation of the international prohibition has always been distinct from the underlying civil war -- civil conflict in Syria. And the threat of force that the President issued was in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons against civilians on a large scale.
The diplomatic breakthrough that we've achieved and that we continue to work with the Russians and the United Nations to try to implement came about because of our forceful insistence that the international community deal with this violation. And if achieved -- and there is a long road ahead of us in implementing this framework agreement, and in working a resolution at the United Nations -- but if achieved, we would go beyond the original objective of military force, which was to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, again, to make clear to him that the consequences of using those weapons were so great that he would not use them again.
This agreement, if successfully implemented, would ensure that Assad could never use them again, because they would take from him all of his chemical weapons and destroy them. And that would be a significant achievement for the Syrian people, for the people of the region -- including our allies in Turkey and Israel and elsewhere -- and it would be a significant achievement for the United States, for Russia and the rest of the world.
Q And one housekeeping question about last week. The President in his address to the nation said that he had asked congressional leaders to delay the vote. Now, the offices of both Eric Cantor and John Boehner, the congressional leaders -- the leaders of the House who were both supporting the President -- have both said on the record that the President never reached out to them to even notify them of his decision to ask Congress to delay the vote. Is that something that the White House acknowledges?
MR. CARNEY: I do not have details of conversations between everybody in the White House and people in leadership. What I can tell you is that it was quite clear from when the President went up to Capitol Hill that this was a matter under discussion; that he believed it was the right thing to do to postpone the votes in order to explore this diplomatic channel.
And I think the American people would rightly expect that that’s the approach that was necessary, given the possibility of achieving our objectives not with force, but through a process that would take Assad's weapons away from him.
Q In his August 9th news conference, the President expressed some annoyance with the fact that people who work for him get beat up in the press, referring to Larry Summers. Was he just as upset when events forced Mr. Summers to resign?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President put out a statement yesterday, and I would point you to his statement about his appreciation for the services that Larry has performed for his country at a very difficult time.
Q You didn’t notice any annoyance?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I was present at the press conference, and I would point you to what the President said at the time.
Q I meant in the wake of Mr. Summers's withdrawal.
MR. CARNEY: I would just point you to the statement.
Q Did anybody in the White House do the arithmetic, look at the Senate Banking Committee, conclude that it was unlikely that Summers could get through the committee, and remind him of that?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, I would just point you to the letter that Larry issued and to the statement that the President put out yesterday.
Q So you're saying it was all his decision?
MR. CARNEY: I would, again, point you to what Larry said and to what the President said.
Q It doesn’t really answer the question.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would point you to the letter and to the President's statement.
Q On the Summers thing, just taking a step back, not to focus on that, but as has been noted, there were Democrats on the Banking Committee would were opposed. That was a problem. If you go to the Syria situation in terms of the President trying to get support on the Hill to authorize force, he had a lot of his fellow Democrats in the House and Senate who were pushing back on him. So I wonder if you can kind of give us an idea, after almost one year done in his second term here, what is the state of the presidency in terms of the President getting his own fellow Democrats to move his agenda.
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s a useful time to ask that question, again, five years after the bottom fell out of the American economy and the world economy. And the actions that were taken by the President and, overwhelmingly, by Democrats in Congress to ensure that what was already the worst recession of our lifetimes did not become the Great Depression of our lifetimes, in the lifetime of the United States. And that could not have been achieved without significant cooperation with and work with both Democrats and Republicans.
Q But that was at the beginning of his presidency when he was riding high; his numbers were a lot different. My question is about today, not in 2009. What’s the state of --
MR. CARNEY: I think what the President said when it came to the congressional consideration of authorization with regards to Syria is that many Americans, and I think in particular Democrats in the Congress, when it came to members of Congress, were wary of another military action by the United States in the Middle East. And he understood that. After all, we have just been through a dozen years where the American people and in particular our families, military families -- the men and women who serve in uniform and their families have sacrificed enormously in ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The President ended the war in Iraq as promised, and is winding down the war in Afghanistan. And so that reluctance and skepticism is completely understandable given the experience that we’ve had as a nation.
He made clear why he believed, and continues to believe, that we as a nation and that we as an international community cannot turn a blind eye to the blatant use of chemical weapons against civilians with horrific consequences, mindful all along that most Americans, understandably, as he said in his statement to the nation, would wish that we did not have to confront that challenge.
So I don’t think the President has any -- I think the President made clear that he has a deep understanding for that kind of reluctance.
Q And two other quick things. You mentioned at the top about the shooting, and the President offered his thoughts and prayers, and he pushed back his statement to allow the D.C. Mayor and the police chief talk about what they said was an active manhunt; there may be other shooters, they were not sure, they didn’t have all the facts, et cetera. Why, then, did the President go ahead with what became a series of attacks on Republicans about the health care law and the debt ceiling fight, et cetera? Tonally, did it not seem a little bit off -- in the middle of this manhunt, people being informed about lives lost -- to move forward with an attack on the other side?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ed, I think he put a top on -- he addressed at the top of his speech about the five-year anniversary and the need to make sure that we, as a nation, do not make mistakes; we, as Washington, do not make mistakes and reverse the progress that we’ve achieved. And I think that’s an important thing for the President to talk about, it’s an important thing for Congress to talk about and act on. And it’s entirely appropriate today for the President to talk about that.
We face, as the President noted, some looming deadlines. Congress needs to act. It has some very clear topline responsibilities: fund the government, pass bills that pay for the activities of the United States government. They insisted on a process whereby budgets were passed in the Senate and the House, and now Republicans have blocked the process of reconciliation. They insisted on a process where the President would put forward his proposals that included compromise on things like entitlements. The President has done that. We have yet to see a counter offer many, many months later.
So time is short. We need to address these challenges. It is also true that we have an unfolding situation here in Washington with regards to violent action and shootings. And it's entirely appropriate for the President to address that at the top of his remarks.
Q And the last thing on Syria. On Friday, there were senior officials in the administration suggesting that military force would not be part of an eventual U.N. resolution to try to hold Assad's feet to the fire on turning over his chemical weapons. Over the weekend, Secretary Kerry -- and obviously, things changed from Friday to Saturday. A deal was cut that we didn't know about on Friday. But the deal was cut on Saturday.
And then Secretary Kerry said he believed, and officials at the State Department said Friday night and Saturday they believed that military force will be part of that U.N. resolution when you go before the Security Council to codify all this. So my question is, can you please clarify what the administration's position is? Will military force be part of the threat, in terms of enforcing that U.N. resolution? From the U.N., not from the U.S. -- the U.N.
MR. CARNEY: I understand, I understand. And I think it's important, because there's been some confusion about what, for example, a Chapter 7 resolution means. And let me start by articulating what that means. Pursuant to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, the Security Council may take recommendations -- rather, make recommendations or decide what measures shall be taken by member states to maintain or restore international peace and security. Chapter 7 resolutions allow for a broad range of consequences to be imposed for non-compliance on the part of the Assad regime. And those decisions will have to be made by the Council.
Chapter 7 does not automatically imply enforcement action. This needs to be specifically decided upon by the Council. Now, we are seeking a Chapter 7 resolution in our deliberations with our close allies -- Britain and France -- with the other two members of the -- permanent members of the United Nations Security Council as well as the broader council. We obviously want the strongest possible enforcement measures included in the text, but the specifics are still being negotiated.
On the issue of military force, let me be clear that separate and apart from those negotiations over the text of a United Nations Security Council resolution, we have made clear -- the President has made clear and others have made clear -- that the threat of U.S. military action remains on the table, separate and apart from the process at the United Nations Security Council.
Q Just very quickly -- I think Ed alluded to this, but I just want to be clear -- was there any consideration by the White House, given that there was an active manhunt like four miles away, to cancel today's economic remarks?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Okay, separate topic -- Obamacare. It's just two weeks before the health care insurance exchanges open up. And some new poll numbers suggest that 44 percent of Americans see it as a bad idea. Perhaps more striking, 70 percent of Americans say they either don't understand it well or only understand it some. Given the fact that it's the President's signature achievement -- this White House has invested so much in it – where’s the disconnect? Is it the White House that's failed to message it directly? Or what do you blame?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we've discussed for many months and years now the concerted, ongoing effort to attack, repeal, defund and delegitimize the Affordable Care Act. And that effort has obviously been backed by huge amounts of money, and it continues.
But I would point to other polls that note -- for example, on the uninsured, there was the poll that you cited I think, talks about how many Americans don't understand the law and don't think it will help them even though it's lacking in insurance. But a poll in USA Today done by Pew -- the Pew poll -- found today that 63 percent of uninsured Americans plan on getting health insurance in the next six months. And in 15 days, obviously, when enrollment begins, they'll finally have affordable options that they lacked in the past.
In addition, in August, the Kaiser poll asked among uninsured Americans if they'll get insurance or not next year, and nearly 60 percent said they would -- again, taking advantage of options available to them that never existed before. And this goes to the heart. There has been an enormous amount of energy spent and money spent by opponents of Obamacare -- health care reform that passed Congress was signed into law by the President, was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court that was passed into law three and a half years ago.
And rather than doing things to help the economy grow, rather than doing things to help more kids get an education, rather than doing things to make sure that we can attract jobs in the United States -- good-paying jobs for the middle class -- Republicans in Congress, in particular the House, have continued to wage political battles of the past, tilting at windmills in many cases when it comes to the 40th attempt to repeal or defund or delegitimize Obamacare.
In the meantime, as I said last week, millions of Americans have enjoyed already the benefits of Obamacare -- getting refunds on their premiums, getting access to preventive services that they didn't have before.
And when it comes to the implementation of the marketplaces, when that takes place there will be a situation where Americans will no longer be prevented from getting insurance because they have a preexisting condition.
The answer that Republicans have had to this now is simply, do away with it. They offer no alternative. They offer no hope of a better situation when it comes to health care for all those millions of Americans. They say, sorry, we're going to take away those refunds, we're going to take away the benefits that you've already enjoyed -- all in the name of an ideological agenda.
We are implementing the Affordable Care Act. And millions of Americans will have insurance, affordable insurance, for the first time because of it. Millions of seniors are paying less for their prescription drugs already because of it. Millions of young people can stay on their parent’s insurance up to age 26 because of it. And the Republicans will have to explain, beyond meetings of their core supporters, why it is they want to take those benefits away from the American people. And while they're doing it, if they don’t get to do that, they'll tank the world economy by defaulting on our debts for the first time in history.
That’s the option that they're laying out there, this faction of one party on Capitol Hill -- do this, or pay the price. I don’t think the American people want that.
Q Very simply, is there some formalized rollout we should anticipate in these coming two weeks for Americans who want to understand it properly and want to see how this works -- here's what it looks like?
MR. CARNEY: I think you're going to see that, and the public education campaign kicks off in earnest at the beginning of October. There will be staff in community health centers. There will be public service announcements and outreach efforts. The six months from October to March will be key to raising awareness about the new marketplaces and the benefits of the law for Americans.
Ads, as I noted, from outside groups to attack the law have already started; they've been ongoing now for a long time. The CMS ads and ads from insurance companies have not. There are some efforts actively working to undermine helping people get the facts they need. I mean, there are some efforts out there to prevent the American people from taking advantage of the benefits provided by a law passed by Congress, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court.
Alexis, then Margaret.
Q Jay, in a different context -- two questions. You just were talking about how time is short. There are folks out there who are concerned that with the budget discussion of this or the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, that immigration reform is going to fall off the agenda. What's the President's message to those folks who have been concerned -- seeing Syria and all of these other issues taking the President's attention -- to his devotion to getting that done this year?
MR. CARNEY: Our absolute focus on getting immigration reform passed by both houses and signed into law has not changed at all. What we saw was a remarkable, bipartisan vote in the Senate on comprehensive legislation that achieves all of the objectives laid out by the President and -- because we're having an economic conversation here with these deadlines looming -- would, if made law, provide enormous economic benefits to our country: greater economic growth; making sure that millions of Americans are brought into a system where they pay taxes, and where businesses across the country all play by the same rules; where legal immigration is reformed so that the best and the brightest who study in our schools are able to stay here and start businesses.
There are myriad reasons to support comprehensive immigration reform. If economic growth is what you care most about, then support comprehensive immigration reform, because the benefits are enormous for our country.
Q One other question. On the U.N. -- the President has recently been talking about the paralysis, or the sense of the U.N. being frozen. What does the President have in mind going into this discussion that he can use, the United States can use its muscle to unstick the U.N. and to thaw it out, or whatever it is that you want to use as a --
MR. CARNEY: You mean with regards to Syria? Well, there’s no question, as we've said many times, that efforts to hold Assad accountable by the United Nations have been blocked over these last several years. There is now an opportunity, thanks to negotiations between the United States and Russia, to help change that. And again, there’s a process underway where the specifics of a resolution are being worked on in New York at the United Nations by the members of the Security Council, the permanent members. And we will push for the strongest possible enforcement language to be included in that resolution.
But I think it is important to note, as I did earlier, that separate and apart from that, the threat of U.S. military force remains on the table. And that threat has been an important forcing mechanism to this process that helped bring about a situation where Russia, which had for two years largely thrown up roadblocks to diplomatic progress in holding Assad accountable, took a significant step and put its credibility on the line in order to push forward this proposal to remove Assad’s chemical weapons from his control; and where Syria, which had never even admitted, for years and years and years, that it had chemical weapons stockpiles, even though it has some of the biggest in the region and the world, has now admitted that -- said it will sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, and has agreed to the proposal to have those weapons stockpiles placed under international supervision and ultimately destroyed. That's significant progress.
Q I have a Navy Yard one also, but if I can do economics first. The summer-fall thing that you were doing earlier --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything more on the timing, Margaret.
Q I just want to make sure you're saying this. You're saying that it could come as soon as, like, September 22nd --
MR. CARNEY: I'm simply pointing you to the fact that we made clear the President would have an announcement in the fall about his nominee for Fed chairman. I have no change to that guidance to offer. And I simply meant that as a note to those who thought fall had already arrived.
Q Does it strategically -- is there any reason why you would hold off on an announcement like that until you get the Obamacare deadline and the budget renewal out of the way? Is there any downside to --
MR. CARNEY: Margaret, I am not going to engage in conversations about nomination announcement process. I'm just not. We've said roughly when that will come, and when the President has an announcement to make he'll make it. And then we'll have an excellent briefing where we discuss the nominee’s credentials.
Q Can you read today as sort of a preview of part of the public campaign to come in terms of the President making a case against pushback when it comes to the Obamacare deadlines and the budget fight -- in terms of any campaign on the road, in terms of how he works with Congress in the next couple of weeks? Is today a good preview of what we're going to be seeing --
MR. CARNEY: I think the President made pretty clear in his remarks that he’s previewing what our approach is as we enter this period of fairly intense discussion about our economic way forward. And so the answer generally speaking is, yes. He made pretty clear that he would not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling.
The flirtation -- the mere flirtation by some members of the House of Representatives in the Republican Party in 2011 with default did harm to our economy. You would think that those who claim to have the American people and the middle class at heart when they make policy decisions, that their goal is to help the American economy and American middle class, would never even consider flirting with default. Unfortunately, there is a faction within the Republican Party, concentrated especially in the House of Representatives, with apparent influence beyond its numbers, that seems to think that’s a good idea; that seems to think that threatening to withhold benefits from a health insurance reform law in exchange for Congress paying the bills that it's already racked up is a good approach to doing the business of the American people. It is not.
Q On the Navy Yard, quickly -- is there anything that the White House has been able to rule out in terms of any potential terrorism component to this? And does the President get briefed on sort of two tracks when it comes to this sort of thing? Or how do you manage that potential angle, which I know is something Americans are worried about?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that in an ongoing situation like this we have to have the investigation take place. The President is briefed and has been briefed multiple times by Lisa Monaco and Alyssa Mastromonaco and will continue to be briefed on the situation as events unfold.
Q Jay, for the Syrians who have been displaced -- almost 7 million, the families of over 100,000 who have been killed -- what's the President's message? There seems to be -- the reports that we're seeing out of those communities seem to say that there's a lack of urgency when dealing with that problem. You're separating, rhetorically, the political resolution from the chemical weapons, and that’s what the President did last week. But what's the message to those people who have been displaced or the families of those who have been killed?
MR. CARNEY: It's the same that it always has been, which is, we believe Assad has to go; that he has long since lost his legitimacy to lead a people that he has ruthlessly murdered, including with the use of chemical weapons. And we have, for that reason, provided enormous support, humanitarian support to the Syrian people -- support that goes to the refugees that you mentioned -- more so than any nation. And we have provided substantial, and continue to provide and increase our aid to the opposition, both the political opposition and the military opposition.
We believe, however, that ultimately, through the Geneva II process, this can only be resolved through political negotiation and settlement. That’s the only way to achieve a process whereby Syria is allowed the best possible future. And we're going to work with all of our international partners and with the opposition to help bring that about.
When it comes to, again -- and I think it's important for those of you who report on this to make clear the distinction that we have tried to make clear from the beginning -- that the contemplation of using U.S. military force was and is in response to Assad's violation of an international prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, because the use of chemical weapons represents a threat to the United States in the long term, certainly a threat to the region. And we, as an international community, and the United States as a leader in that community, must ensure that that prohibition remains strong.
Q But what is the response to those who say that the urgency with which the White House has responded to the chemical weapons issue is undercut by two years delayed in response to a -- many of the people who have been suffering under the -- for the last two years are wondering why the military was only being used as a threat for the chemical weapons issue.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, that’s been our policy, Jared. I mean, we made clear in that policy we're not using U.S. military to fight somebody else's civil war. We're providing assistance to the opposition, both to the military and political opposition. We're providing substantial humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. And we have, working with our partners, placed significant pressure on Assad as part of our effort to bring about a political settlement that in our view cannot include Assad in control.
Jon-Christopher, and then April.
Q Thank you, Jay. Has the U.S. been in discussions with its allies, like Great Britain and France, regarding what countries might contribute to any security force to assure the safety of the inspectors in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: The United States has been in close consultation with the United Kingdom and France in New York about the U.N. Security Council resolution, as well as other members of the Security Council. We have been in regular consultation as a general matter with Great Britain and France on the issue of Syria.
When it comes to the mechanisms and modalities of implementing the framework, that process is still very much underway, and I don’t have any specifics about what those mechanisms would look like or who would participate. So I just don’t have any answers on those.
Q Are they ongoing discussions, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, they are.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: April.
Q Jay, on the Navy Yard, a couple of questions. Does today's situation give the President pause to say we need to pull together a listing for who we're going to have fill the Homeland Security position that’s been left vacant by Janet Napolitano?
MR. CARNEY: Well, two things. I would say that the President, as he does in all these cases when he has a top position to fill, is going about the process of deciding on a nominee and he will do that taking the time necessary to select a nominee.
We also have a pending Deputy Homeland Security Secretary nominee that we would like the Senate to act on right away -- a highly qualified person who should be confirmed right away. But in the meantime, the President is working on a potential secretary nomination.
Q Another question on this. During this briefing, we've been watching the news. The numbers have gone up; at least 12 are dead now. What does this White House think about this, particularly -- and Phil Rucker put this out on Twitter -- since President Obama has been in office, seven mass shootings. There has been momentum. People have seen death, destruction, and felt the pain. Why has there not been some kind of movement on some kind of new gun control law?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, as you just noted, these are unfolding facts on an unfolding and ongoing situation and investigation with regards to this particular shooting, which is tragic. And as the President said, since this is taking place on a military installation, the fact that men and women who understand the risks that they’re taking when they work for the military and potentially get assigned overseas in dangerous places certainly did not imagine they would be taking those kinds of risks when they showed up for work this morning on a domestic military installation. But it is far too early to say anything about who did this and the broader meaning of it.
When it comes to common-sense legislation to reduce gun violence, the President has been very clear. And he was very clear with his significant disappointment with the Senate in its failure to pass common-sense legislation that was supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people -- by majorities in blue states, purple states and red states. And that was a shame.
And we will continue to work to take action to improve gun safety in this -- to reduce gun violence in this country through executive action, and hopefully Congress will take action to reduce gun violence as well.
Q Jay, you say it’s far too early, and I understand that, but we do know for a fact that these were shooting deaths. And going down that seven -- Fort Hood, Binghamton, Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown, and the Navy Yard --
MR. CARNEY: And then countless other deaths -- as you know, April, countless other deaths. And this is why we should take action to reduce gun violence. We should take common-sense action that is supported by Americans from every part of the country.
Q On Iran, there’s some positive, flexible comments coming out of the Iranians today. You might have seen the Atomic Energy meeting in Vienna, the U.S. delegation chief talked about provocative acts, but the Iranian delegate talked about wanting to be more flexible. Did the President’s remarks on Iran in his speech last night, have they achieved the desired effect? Is there more optimism or more reason for optimism now about a diplomatic track on a resolution of a nuclear --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple of things. One, we hope that this new Iranian government will engage substantively in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program. And we remain ready to engage with the Rouhani government on the basis of mutual respect to achieve a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue.
We remain ready to engage with the Rouhani government on the basis of mutual respect to achieve a peaceful resolution.
Now, actions, of course, speak louder than words. And it has always been the case that we are ready to engage in the P5-plus-1 or bilaterally to achieve this resolution. But we have also been very clear that Iran has flagrantly failed to live up to its obligations under international resolutions and needs to, in a verifiable way, forsake its nuclear weapons program.
But we will continue to engage -- or make ourselves available to engage. And as the President made clear in his interview, we remain hopeful that there’s a possibility of making progress on this issue.
Q With a meeting or some kind of contact at UNGA?
MR. CARNEY: There are currently no plans for the President to meet with his Iranian counterpart at UNGA next week.
Thanks very much.
Q Jay, he does plan to meet with the Iranian President? Would it be scheduled or would it tend to be a --
MR. CARNEY: There are no plans for him to meet. I didn’t say it was on the schedule; I'm saying there are no plans for him to meet with the Iranian President.
Q How about Colorado? We didn’t ask you about Colorado and just about the federal response. I would assume that a lot of people would -- thank you.
MR. CARNEY: First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends who lost a loved one during this historic flooding in Colorado.
Yesterday, the President, as many of you know, called Governor Hickenlooper for an update on the situation and expressed his concern for the citizens affected by the flooding including those individuals still missing. He also commended the first responders working tirelessly to save lives and protect Colorado communities.
At the President’s direction, FEMA Administrator Fugate traveled to Colorado today to ensure that the federal government is closely coordinating with state and local officials in the response to these floors. FEMA has two Incident Management Assistant Teams and a liaison officer onsite at the Colorado Emergency Operation Center to coordinate with state and local officials to identify needs and shortfalls affecting disaster response.
Five federal Urban Search and Rescue teams -- Colorado Task Force One activated by the state, Missouri Task Force One, Utah Task Force One, Nebraska Task Force One, and Nevada Task Force One -- are on the ground to support search-and-rescue operations in hard-hit areas.
As is the case in situations like this, FEMA proactively staged commodities closer to the hardest-hit areas and areas potentially affected by the severe weather and flooding. And we have -- and FEMA has more detail about the kinds of assistance it’s providing and the commodities that they have on location to help individuals hard hit by this historic flooding.
2:29 P.M. EDT
December 16, 2013
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President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama Mark the One-Year Anniversary of the Sandy Hook Shooting
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