Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Jay Carney , 09/19/13
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:28 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Good to have you here today -- another beautiful day here in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital. Fabulous weather.
I have a lot of toppers and I'm going to top with this one.
My first topper is, on Monday, September 23, the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden will travel to Colorado to view damage from recent flooding and survey recovery efforts there. The Vice President’s office will be releasing additional information as we get closer to Monday. That's topper number one.
Topper number two, on Tuesday, President Obama will travel to New York to attend the Clinton Global Initiative, where he and President Clinton will engage in a conversation about the benefits and future of health care reform in America and access to quality health care around the globe.
I know that was confusing -- I said that he'll travel to New York. He will be in New York, as you know, for the United Nations General Assembly.
Secondly, as you all know, following on the announcement that he'll be having this conversation with former President Clinton about the benefits and future of health care reform, this conversation will take place one week before the health insurance marketplaces open for business, and Americans who do not currently have insurance will be able to sign up for affordable, quality health plans that meet their needs.
This conversation between the two Presidents will follow up on the health care speech President Clinton gave in Arkansas in early September and is part of a ramped-up public education effort to reach Americans who want to sign up for new affordable options in the health insurance marketplaces from October through March.
Finally, today the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Nina Pillard’s nomination to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit. There are now two highly qualified nominees for this court pending before the full Senate, and we urge their prompt confirmation.
As you may know, Pillard’s career includes landmark accomplishments on behalf of women and families. She helped defend the constitutionality of the Family and Medical Leave Act and helped open the doors of the Virginia Military Institute to female students. Today, Pillard is a professor at Georgetown Law School. And I would remind you that the D.C. circuit has a strong tradition of judges who were previously innovative scholars, and that would include Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Some Republicans continue to cynically raise arguments about that court’s workload, even though the court is more than a quarter vacant today. During the last administration, these very same senators confirmed judges to the 9th, 10th, and 11th seats on this very same court. And earlier this year, these same senators confirmed judges to circuit courts with fewer pending appeals per active judge than is the case at the D.C. Circuit.
Right now there are 14 judicial nominees pending in the Senate, including 12 who have the unanimous support of the Judiciary Committee, and we urge the Senate to consider Nina Pillard’s nomination and all of the President’s judicial nominees without delay.
That was a lot of toppers, and maybe we can just wrap it up. Or I’ll take your questions. Yes.
Q I appreciate it. Thanks, Jay. Today, House Speaker John Boehner said the House won’t vote to increase the debt limit without including some spending cuts to reduce the deficit. Is the President willing to give them?
MR. CARNEY: The President has been and is willing to negotiate with Republicans over a broad compromise on budget, on funding and spending. He has put forward his own proposal to do that. And he urges Congress to act to make sure the government does not shut down and continues to be funded, and, if necessary, to pass a short-term extension of funding at current levels in order to allow for further negotiations on a broader budget agreement.
I would note that, in keeping with his promises, and the Democrats, in keeping with their promises, the President submitted a budget that represented compromise and tough choices for Democrats, with broad-based deficit reduction achieved through a balanced approach. The Senate passed its own budget, as Republican leaders insisted they must.
At the time, Republican leaders said we have to have regular order; we have to have a situation where the House passes a budget, the Senate passes a budget, and then, in accordance with regular order, a conference is established and a product is produced. Except when that happened, and the Senate passed a budget, the House decided it did not want to join in a conference, and the House Republican leaders have refused to name conferees for the budget now for about six months.
So that’s a laying-down of the facts here when it comes to the President’s willingness to compromise to achieve resolution and find common ground on budget issues. And he looks forward to doing that in the future.
On the matter of debt ceiling, the answer is, no, we will negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to pay the bills that Congress incurred -- Congress’s responsibility enshrined in the United States Constitution, which gives Congress power over the purse strings here in this country, to responsibly ensure that we do not default, that the United States is good -- is true to its word and that our full faith and credit will be upheld.
It’s unconscionable to imagine that there are those in the Congress -- and now, apparently, because he couldn’t persuade them otherwise, the Speaker of the House has joined them, who believe that it is the right thing to do to threaten another recession, threaten economic calamity in this country and the globe, over their ideological desire to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act.
We’ve had this battle. That’s how it works: You write legislation; you propose legislation; you pass legislation. It becomes law. If people think it’s inappropriate or unconstitutional, they take it to the Supreme Court -- through the court system to the Supreme Court. In this case, that’s what happened and the Supreme Court upheld the law, and we’re implementing the law. And if members of the Republican Party want to continue to try to overturn the law through legislation, they can -- they have been doing that nonstop for the past several years. But they should not hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to their insistence that they get what they want in a manner that they couldn’t get through legislation.
That’s our position.
Q Will the White House urge House Democrats to vote for a clean debt ceiling, even though it would be at a level reflecting a continuation of the sequester?
MR. CARNEY: As I said the other day and I think as recently as yesterday, and I think the SAP that we put out, the Statement of Administration Policy, says that we would be willing to accept a so-called clean CR at current spending levels for several months to allow for continued negotiations over a broader budget deal.
What we won’t accept is further cuts in important investments in our economy. I think it’s worth noting that the Republican -- House Republican budget approach enshrined in the Ryan budget was rejected by House Republicans, who could not even pass a transportation and housing bill out of committee. I think that demonstrates that the Ryan budget is not acceptable even among House Republicans.
But to answer your question, we would accept a clean CR for a short term in order to continue the negotiations over how we can find agreement over funding the government, ensuring that we’re protecting the middle class and helping it grow, that we’re creating jobs, and that we’re reducing our deficit in a responsible way.
What Speaker Boehner didn’t note in his presentation today is that the deficit has been coming down dramatically. It has been coming down and is now slated to be half the size it was when the President took office -- despite the enormous economic challenges that our nation faced when the President did take office and all that we had to do to avert a depression.
But there is more work to be done. And we can responsibly reduce our deficit in the mid and long term, and fund our necessary priorities to help the economy grow, and help the middle class, and create good-paying jobs here in the United States through investments in education and innovation, research and development and infrastructure. We just have to do it in a responsible way.
And we can’t go to the nation -- or we shouldn’t -- they shouldn’t go to the nation and say, we couldn’t get this through normal means, so we’re going to threaten your job, your welfare, your security and future, so that we can defund Obamacare, or delay it -- a proposition which would actually increase the deficit. So this is supposed to be all about spending, but they want to increase the deficit to get what they -- what their ideology demands.
And I think we’ve seen, not just coming from here but from all corners, including many corners within the Republican Party, the view that this is a bad idea. It’s bad for the economy. It’s bad for the middle class. It’s bad for the Republican Party. Obviously that’s for Republican Party leaders and members to sort out, what’s good for them politically. What we know is that this approach is bad for the American people.
Q Can you just talk about Sunday? Is there any more you can tell us about the President’s plans at the memorial service? Is he going to speak, and might we hear anything about gun control, like after Newtown?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a preview beyond what I announced yesterday. I think the President might speak, but I don’t have anything more specific than that to say about it. When we have more information we’ll provide it.
Q On Syria, in his interview with Fox, President Assad said that he thought it would cost about a billion dollars to destroy Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons, and he suggested that the United States should pay for it. I'm wondering is the United States willing to finance the cost of destruction of --
MR. CARNEY: A couple of things. He also said that somebody else was responsible for mass murder of civilians using chemical weapons, including children. And I suppose if you use poison gas to murder your own people, including the children of your own nation, you probably would deny it publicly.
We're working with the Russians on a framework that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov worked out with their teams to implement a program that would identify, verify and remove from Assad's control the chemical weapon stockpiles in that country. And this is obviously a complicated piece of business. I don't have a cost figure associated with it. What I can tell you is that it would be in the interest of the Syrian people, the interest of the people of the region, the interest of the United States and the people of the world to see those chemical weapon stockpiles safely removed from Syria -- removed from Assad's control and destroyed, so that he cannot use them again in the deplorably indiscriminate way that he used them against his own people.
Q So when it comes, though, to the cost of doing that --
MR. CARNEY: The folks working on the details of the plans might have more information about what it would take, what it will take to bring about the identification and transfer and ultimate destruction of the chemical weapons. And we're working with our teams on that.
But two things I would say -- is that the use of those weapons is the absolute, clear responsibility of Assad. The U.N. report, the inspectors’ report reinforces what we've been saying and what many nations around the world have agreed with us in saying that Assad was responsible for the attacks on August 21st. Attempts to suggest otherwise have become farcical in their weirdness and their disassociation from established facts.
But none of that matters so much as the fact that Syria has now, for the first time in its history, acknowledged that they have chemical weapons and agreed to rid themselves of chemical weapons. And Russia has obviously joined with the United States in producing this framework for achieving that. Now, there's a lot of work to be done, but this is a significant development over these past days. And we're going about the business of trying to make it happen.
Q Looking ahead to next week, are you moving toward some kind of encounter at the U.N. between President Obama and President Rouhani?
MR. CARNEY: We have no meetings scheduled, as I said yesterday. We have met with the Iranians through the P5-plus-1 process. We communicate with the Iranians through a variety of methods, as we've said in the past. President Obama and the new President, Rouhani, have exchanged letters, as President Obama noted in a couple of interviews. It has long been the position of President Obama since he was a candidate and this was a matter of debate during the Democratic primaries in 2008 as well as during the general election, that he would, as President, be willing to have bilateral negotiations with the Iranians provided that the Iranians were serious about addressing the international community’s insistence that they give up their nuclear weapons programs. That is the position that we hold today.
The first words he uttered after he took the oath of office included this sentence -- he being the President: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
And that was a reference in his inaugural address to his position stated during the campaign and throughout his presidency that he’d be willing to have direct conversations and negotiations with the Iranians provided that the Iranians were serious about ridding themselves of their nuclear weapons program and honoring the international commitments that they’ve made.
Now, there have been a lot of very interesting things said out of Tehran and the new government, and encouraging things, but actions are more important than words. And one of the reasons why we’re seeing this change in rhetoric we believe is because -- we know is because of the international consensus that has been established with the President’s leadership behind the proposition that Iran must give up its nuclear weapons program. And that consensus has been backed with the most severe sanctions regime in history. And that sanctions regime has inflicted enormous harm on the Iranian economy. And the new President has made clear that he wants to -- or says that he wants to address that problem. And to do that, he needs to demonstrate that he’s serious about resolving this conflict with the international community.
I’m going to move -- instead of going regular order here, I’m going to start on the right. Starting on the right.
Q Thanks, Jay. Can I get your reaction to Ann Curry’s interview with Iran’s President, just following up on these questions, in which he says that he doesn't plan to make a chemical weapon? But then when he was asked about --
MR. CARNEY: I think you mean -- sorry -- nuclear weapons.
Q Yes, sorry, nuclear weapon. And then when he was asked about Israel, though, he described Israel as an “occupier and a usurper government.” So, first of all, could you respond to his initial comments about nuclear weapons?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I was just saying in answer to Roberta, there’s no question that new Iranian government has been taking a different approach in the things that it has said about a lot of issues. And it has taken some actions that suggest a new approach, and I don’t want to diminish that. That’s obviously welcome. And as I said yesterday, we are interested in testing the seriousness of those assertions -- the desire, the stated desire by the new government to improve its relationships with the international community, knowing that the only way to do that is to deal with this problem. So I would put that statement and that interview within the context of other things that have been said along those lines.
And then the second question?
Q The comments about Israel -- he calls it a "usurper government." When he was asked directly about whether he believed whether the Holocaust was a myth, he sort of dodged that question. So how do you square --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that obviously -- I didn’t see the full text of the interview, so I'm taking your description of it in answering this question. But these are obviously important issues, and we have seen certainly from President Rouhani's predecessor incredibly offensive statements with regards to Israel and the Jewish people. So we are assessing and evaluating all the things that the new government is saying and doing.
Q Did the President see the interview or the transcript?
MR. CARNEY: The President is very, as he always is, up to date on developments on this issue. I don’t know that he saw the interview, but I know he's certainly aware of many of the things that the new President has been saying, and members of his government have been saying.
Q And then on Syria -- yesterday, a State Department spokesperson said about the Saturday deadline for Assad turning over his list of chemical weapons, she said, "We've never said that was a hard and fast deadline." So do you expect to actually get a full accounting of Assad's chemical weapons by the first deadline? And is it a hard and fast deadline?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me be clear about that. We developed this framework because it is our stated goal to prevent Assad from ever using chemical weapons again. And fulfilling this framework by removing those weapons from his control and destroying them would achieve that goal. We believe the situation is so serious that action needs to be taken as swiftly as possible so the Assad regime can never use these weapons again. And we expect the Syrian regime to abide by the timeline in the framework, and for Russia to hold the Assad regime to account.
Now, we need to stress that these are timelines and goals, and we are all aware that something as complicated as destroying a massive stockpile of chemical weapons takes time. And as we've said --
Q So it's not --
MR. CARNEY: The framework makes a distinction -- and this is what's important, and this goes to the question -- between the initial information provided by Syria that would fall under a one-week timeframe and the formal CWC Declaration -- the Chemical Weapons Convention Declaration -- which is on a 30-day timeframe.
So we are looking at both and we will evaluate Syria's compliance as we see information from Syria.
Q So I just want to be clear. If they don’t give you a full accounting by Saturday, it doesn’t necessarily indicate the deal has fallen apart?
MR. CARNEY: There's an initial provision of information, and that is the one-week deadline. And we'll evaluate compliance when we see what the Syrians have provided. And then there’s the 30-day deadline in accordance with the convention.
Q Thanks, Jay. I’m not asking you about a Fed action, but asking you about the President’s performance on the economy. When the Fed says that the economy is simply not strong enough to take the training wheels off, is that not an indictment of the President’s policies, since he’s had five years now?
MR. CARNEY: No. I think that -- again, without commenting on Fed policy -- it is something that this President says every time he speaks about the economy, that we have more work to do. What all the actions taken at various levels to address these severe economic straits we were in as a nation were meant to do was to help propel this economy in a different direction --
Q But they’re saying it hasn’t -- you got us out of another potential depression, but the economy has not propelled. They haven’t taken the training wheels off. Why is that?
MR. CARNEY: The economy is not where we need it to be --
Q Right. Why?
MR. CARNEY: What is true is that the economy policies that produced the worst recession in our lifetimes, that had us headed for a global depression with the prospect of 25 percent unemployment, created a situation where when the President was taking office, the nation was losing 800,000 jobs a month. The nation’s economy was contracting at an annual rate of 8 percent. We ultimately lost more than 8 million jobs.
And thanks to the grit and determination and resilience of the American people, thanks to policies that were put in place in the months and years after the economic collapse, we have seen this country grow steadily and produce 7.5 million private sector jobs. By definition, that is not a completion of the job.
And the fact is the unemployment rate is still too high; too many Americans are still looking for jobs. And that’s why we should be investing in education, not slashing education, which Republicans, especially in the House, say we should be doing. It’s why we should be investing in our infrastructure to create jobs today and create the foundation for future job growth and economic growth down the line. And we should be investing in research and development and other aspects of our economy that will help it grow and help it create jobs, instead of cutting all that in order, in part, to preserve tax breaks for corporations that are unnecessary, or other privileges that don’t help our economy grow.
Q Except, on that point of education, on August 2, 2011, the President signs a Budget Control Act of 2011 -- the last time we had this big debt ceiling fight -- into law. And he says, “We have $2 trillion in deficit reduction,” the President says, “yet it also allows us to keep making key investments in things like education and research that lead to new jobs, and assures we’re not cutting too abruptly while the economy is still fragile.” August 2011. Here we are more than two years later, you’re saying the same thing about we need to invest in education --
MR. CARNEY: And how many jobs has the economy created since then?
Q And Bernanke yesterday said it’s not keeping up, that people are leaving the workforce. That's why the unemployment --
MR. CARNEY: You and I, we’re going to do this on Crossfire one day, I promise. And let’s be clear that I’ll be on one side and you’ll be on the other. But what was true then is true today that we need to continue to invest in education. We need to continue to invest in infrastructure. We need to continue to invest in areas --
Q The budget of 2011 did that, according to the President. Two years later --
MR. CARNEY: Okay, first of all, as we discussed yesterday, you need to -- we need to help you with your facts about what happened in 2011. There was a $1.1 trillion non-defense discretionary cut, which allowed for us to preserve key investments in education and elsewhere. There was a call for additional deficit reduction, which the President proposed a plan to do, which was balanced and the Republicans rejected. A super committee was tasked with finding a way to achieve that, and if that was not achieved after another year, the sequester would kick into place.
Now, the sequester is indiscriminant, across-the-board cuts, which Republicans bemoaned, until, lacking an alternative, they celebrated, including significant cuts to our military readiness and cuts to Head Start and other programs that are vital to millions of American families across the country.
So again, if you’re suggesting by this that we ought to be cutting education, you should say so. If you’re suggesting we ought to be -- that's what the Republican budget proposes -- that we ought to be cutting -- we ought not to be funding infrastructure.
Q The President said we were making those investments. Two years later, the Fed says it’s just not growing.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, have we been growing? Has the economy been growing? Yes, it is.
Q Those are facts. That's what he said. He said it’s just not growing quick enough for us to take the training wheels off.
MR. CARNEY: The President believes entirely that we need to continue to make the key investments to have the economy grow and create jobs. And he agrees entirely with those who would say that the economic policies that were in place that helped precipitate the worst financial crisis and the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes are mirrored by the Republican proposals that we see today. Republicans have put forward ideas that would bring us back to policies that caused the worst job loss of our lifetimes. That's a bad idea.
Q Last one is -- since you said you wanted to focus on facts, yesterday you and the President talked about how “never in the history of America has the debt ceiling been used to extort a President.” You probably saw The Washington Post looked at that, looked at the facts and gave you four Pinocchios. So are you going to correct that today?
MR. CARNEY: There is no question that prior to 2011, there has never been a case where one party with one ideological agenda has threatened to default on the United States obligations for the first time in its --
Q -- not the first time --
MR. CARNEY: Did not -- was default --
Q Richard Nixon wanted to lift the debt ceiling and Ted Kennedy and other Democrats brought up a campaign finance reform bill because of Watergate, correct?
MR. CARNEY: No question. Was anybody threatening default?
Q -- another party, right? Ted Kennedy --
MR. CARNEY: Was anybody threatening default? Was anybody saying, if I don't get this --
Q They were days away.
MR. CARNEY: -- if I don't get what I want, we'll allow the economy to default?
Q That's what Ted Kennedy was demanding -- a campaign finance reform bill. Days away.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, again, go look at the facts. Go look at the history.
Q So why did The Washington Post give you four Pinocchios?
MR. CARNEY: You can ask The Washington Post.
Q So you're going to continue to say this has never happened before?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, why don't we look at what Republicans have said? Threatening default is a bad idea.
Q Let's look at what The Washington Post said. You still haven't answered. The Washington Post says four Pinnocchios.
MR. CARNEY: Does anybody else want to watch Ed and me debate?
Q Well, you won't answer it -- four Pinocchios.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I said it is absolutely correct that prior to 2011, no party to the budget agreements of the past had ever threatened default if it did not get its way ideologically. It did not happen. And in 2011, we saw it happen. And even the flirtation with default, the fact that there were members of Congress on Capitol Hill who said, we should default rather than reach an agreement with President Obama, a compromise with President Obama -- that took an enormous toll on our economy.
And people who think that this is fun and games ought to tell it to those people who did not get jobs in August of 2011 or September of 2011 because of that behavior; people who struggled to pay their bills for longer than they should have because of that decision. It was a mistake then, and I think the American people saw it as a mistake. And a lot of people, including a lot of Republicans, see it as a mistake today.
Q Jay, what has the President done in the last 24 hours to prevent a shutdown or default? And is he just stepping back and watching the Republicans duke it out? Is that what the strategy is at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he didn't make any videos, but he did meet with leading members of the business community to talk about the need for all of us to work together to grow the economy, ensure that the middle class is strong and getting stronger, and to avoid both a government shutdown and a default.
I think you saw a statement from the Chamber of Commerce. You've seen statements from across the board, including, as I've noted, from Republicans of all stripes who believe that the strategy, if you can call it that, employed by House Republicans is a recipe for economic disaster and, at least according to them, trouble for the Republican Party.
The President has made clear that he’s willing to discuss how we move forward on our budget issues. He’s put forward a compromise budget proposal. He spent a lot of time this year meeting with Republicans who said they were interested in finding common ground on our budget challenges. And even as he has done that, we've presided over economic growth and job creation, and a reduction of our deficit by half.
He understands we need to do more, but we need to do it in a way that’s fair to the middle class. What is not fair to the middle class is a shutdown that hurts the middle class. What is not fair to the middle class is default for the sake of the ideological goal of defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act “I’m either going to take your job -- make sure you lose your job, or take away your access to health insurance” -- that’s the choice.
Q Are you quietly rooting for Ted Cruz?
MR. CARNEY: I saw that somebody suggested he might be a secret ally of the Democrats. I’m not sure that’s the case. But I think that a lot of people have noted that the effort to defund the Affordable Care Act is going nowhere, and wasting time on it when we have urgent deadlines to protect our economy and allow it to grow and help the middle class is quixotic at best.
Q And, Jay, speaking of Obamacare and jobs lost, the Cleveland Clinic says that because of concerns with health care reform, it’s cutting $330 million out of its budget, that there may be jobs lost as a result. What does the President have to say to Americans who may lose their jobs due to the implementation of Obamacare?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have not seen any specifics on that particular report. What I can say is that there is no data that bears out the assertion that the economy is losing jobs because of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. What we have seen, even though you --
Q A spokesman for the Cleveland Clinic is saying --
MR. CARNEY: Again, Jim, I appreciate it, and I’m saying I don’t know the details of that story. What I can tell you is that when Republicans stand up and say that the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare is raising health care costs, they stand there and say that with a straight face, knowing that the last three years have seen a reduction in the growth of health care -- the lowest increase in health care costs in 50 years, in the three years since the Affordable Care Act was passed. Okay? So the cost of health care has -- the rate of increase has been going down dramatically, and partly that is due to the Affordable Care Act.
What we have seen in the data is that the vast majority of the jobs created of those 7.5 million -- vast majority are full-time jobs, not part-time jobs, as Republicans and opponents of the Affordable Care Act will tell you -- again, contradicting the evidence that people are only creating part-time jobs in order to --
Q You’re saying that there is no evidence that any jobs will be lost due to the implementation of health care?
MR. CARNEY: I'm saying that there’s no data that backs that up. I’m not saying that there isn’t anecdotal evidence. There is some anecdotal evidence, some people -- there has been an ongoing trend of employers, for example, shedding employees from employer-sponsored health care plans. One of the reasons why we needed health care reform was to deal with that growing problem. And then when you see some employers say, well, now we’re continuing that trend but this time we’re going to blame it on a new law, it doesn’t really pass the seriousness test because this has been a trend that’s been ongoing for a long time.
And one of the reasons why, for people who cannot or do not have access to employer-based insurance, can now buy -- when the marketplaces are in effect, can now buy insurance at affordable rates that they could not buy before. They did not have access to affordable rates. I said the other day that there was a study that just came out that showed that nearly six in 10 Americans who are uninsured will have access to health insurance at a cost of less than $100 per month.
And if all governors followed the Republican governors in some states who have fully implemented or are fully implementing the Affordable Care Act, including the expansion in Medicaid, that nearly eight in 10 uninsured Americans would have that access. That’s a huge deal for those Americans. It may not be a huge deal for people who don’t really offer alternatives or care that much about whether those uninsured Americans get health insurance, but it certainly matters to them and their families.
Q And you mentioned the video. You’re obviously referring to Speaker Boehner’s video. Is that right?
MR. CARNEY: Might have been. (Laughter.)
Q -- that his office put out this morning, saying that the President is more willing to negotiate with Vladimir Putin than he is with House Republicans.
MR. CARNEY: I’d say two things. One, the President will be --
Q -- he has spent more time with Vladimir Putin.
MR. CARNEY: That is irrefutably false. The President has spent an enormous amount of time with John Boehner over the years. And I have no doubt and you can expect that the President will be in conversations with congressional leaders in the coming days about the need to deal with these pressing deadlines. The video I thought demonstrated a little Putin envy, a little odd bit of Putin envy on behalf of the Speaker. (Laughter.) But maybe he can explain that.
Q What is Putin envy, exactly?
Q Jay, the President’s Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Stephen Rapp, said yesterday that President Assad should absolutely be charged for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Is it the policy of the U.S. government that Assad should be charged for war crimes?
MR. CARNEY: There is no doubt that the Assad regime is responsible for crimes against humanity and violation of the laws of war. Since the regime began its brutal campaign against the Syria people, the United States has been clear that those responsible for the atrocities in Syria must be held accountable.
We have worked to support efforts by the international community to gather evidence that could help build the foundation for future efforts to hold accountable those responsible for those atrocities in Syria. And these efforts include the U.N. Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center, an independent organization that the international community established in 2012.
So it’s our view that Assad and his regime are responsible for these, and we have undertaken all these efforts that I just described.
Q So are you saying it is the policy that Assad should be charged with war crimes?
MR. CARNEY: Again, our position that those responsible for the atrocities in Syria, atrocities that are clearly crimes against humanity, must be held accountable. Syria itself is not an ICC state party, and we have seen that there is no realistic prospect that the Security Council will refer the Syrian situation to the ICC or agree to establish a U.N. tribunal, as was done for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. But we still believe that those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable.
Q So I want to ask you about something you said at least twice over the past week from that podium. You said that Assad, in a network interview, claimed that he did not have chemical weapons. What were you talking about? And is that statement true?
MR. CARNEY: Prior to the agreement by the Syrian government, the Assad government, to the Russian proposition agreed to with the United States that Assad would give up his chemical weapons, they have insisted for years that they do not possess chemical weapons. And when asked, they have demurred or refused to answer, or said at different times that they don’t have them. I don’t think anybody doubts that that was their position and that it has changed in the wake of the credible threat of U.S. force in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons and the developments that we’ve seen since then.
Q But, Jay, you have said before that you would never -- it’s important to have credibility and to get the facts right from the podium. So I’m just asking you very specifically -- because you said this twice -- you said, and the most recent one was just on Monday -- “President Assad, in a taped interview, appeared on a network claiming that Syria did not have chemical weapons.” You said that a week ago today.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I don’t have the transcript of the interview. There’s no question that --
Q I have it here. He did not say that. In fact, he said exactly the opposite. He said, “We never said that we have it, and we never said that we don’t have it.” Now, you said twice --
MR. CARNEY: Okay, Jon --
Q I’m just asking --
MR. CARNEY: Okay, fair point.
Q -- did you speak inaccurately? Was that inaccurate?
MR. CARNEY: I will concede, having not seen the transcript recently, that he did not -- I’m taking your word for it -- say, we don’t have them. He refused to answer the question. And for 20 years Syria refused to answer the question. If it is now ABC’s position that, in fact, Syria has all along admitted --
Q ABC is not the issue. I’m trying to get at whether or not you’re speaking accurately from the podium. And if you want to correct the record, that’s fine. Because Assad said in his latest interview that he’s never said one way or the other, and you’ve said otherwise. It’s just a matter of credibility here.
MR. CARNEY: Five nations in the world, Syria among them, have refused to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Q I understand. I’m asking about what you said about the interview Assad did last week.
MR. CARNEY: And I understand. What was clear from that interview -- and I accept the time you spent dissecting these words -- but I accept that Assad did not admit that he has chemical weapons, nor did he deny that he had them. What the world has known for 20 years, since the CWC was opened for signatories, is that Syria would not admit to having stockpiles of chemical weapons, even though the world knew they had them, and that that changed because of the pressure placed on Syria by the United States and its allies.
Q President Rouhani said in his interview that he has complete authority to negotiate a nuclear weapons deal with the United States. Does this government believe that?
MR. CARNEY: What we believe is that the dramatic effects on the Iranian economy of the unprecedented sanctions regime has made it clear to leaders of that country that it would be in their best interests to deal with this problem. Whether they will deal with it remains to be seen.
And the President has made it his policy from the time he ran for office and took office that he is willing to meet with and the United States is willing to have bilateral negotiations with Iran if Iran is serious about addressing the problem that the international community asserts that exists, which is that Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapon.
Q This goes to an assessment I’m trying to gather about this new government --
MR. CARNEY: About who’s in charge.
Q -- and who’s in charge, and what do we deduce differently about Rouhani than we did about Ahmadinejad, and its relationship with the clerics and the leadership above the presidency in Iran.
MR. CARNEY: These are excellent questions and ones that I know keep Iran experts up late at night. And I think that the only way to know the answer to those questions is to test the proposition, is to test the assertions of the Rouhani government that it wants to improve its relations with the international community, including the United States, knowing that the only way to do that is to solve this problem, which is come clean with the international community; rejoin it by agreeing to in a verifiable way give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Q In the last couple of days, Iran has released 11 political prisoners, some of them with notable histories in Iran. Rouhani also said in his interview that he would be open to social media access in Iran that had been denied for years. Where would you place these two developments in the arc --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say that the release of political prisoners is a concrete action. And I would say that rhetorically entertaining the idea of providing access to social media is rhetoric. And it’s welcome rhetoric. And I think that we are all watching very closely and with interest, and listening closely and with interest to the things that the new leadership has been saying.
And we are very interested in testing whether or not their claimed desire to improve relations with the international community will be backed up by action, and we hope it is. We believe, as we’ve said all along, that there is still an opportunity to resolve this issue diplomatically. It is certainly in the world's interest to resolve it diplomatically. And we continue to pursue that through the P5-plus-1, through various means. But actions, in this case -- words are no substitute for actions. And we need to follow through on these openings and see how serious the Iranians are.
Q I know you told us there's nothing scheduled in New York. What I'm more curious about is if it's even too early to suggest a meeting between these two particular leaders.
MR. CARNEY: I would say no, because, as I noted when I did not do justice in my reading of a sentence from the President's first inaugural, that he has been saying all along and did so as a candidate that he’d be willing to have that meeting, and he’d be willing to have the U.S. meet and negotiate directly in a bilateral way with the Iranians, as well as, of course, through the P5-plus-1, provided that Iran demonstrates a seriousness about dealing with this nuclear weapons program. And we will see. We will see.
Q So it's possible?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just say that in general, it's possible. But it has always been possible. The extended hand has been there from the moment the President was sworn into office.
Q Might be more possible considering the events we've just been talking about.
MR. CARNEY: I would say that we obviously notice a significant change in language and tone from the new Iranian government when compared to its predecessor. It's rather dramatic. But it's important when we're talking about this incredibly serious matter of a nuclear weapons program that we not just take Iran's words for it, that we back it up and see if it's real.
Q Two quick questions on Syria. Getting back to what we discussed earlier, forgetting or setting aside for a moment the $1 billion figure that Assad mentioned, that seems more -- a substantive question is the willingness of this government to state publicly it will finance, to whatever degree necessary, because it is such a priority, the pursuit of nonproliferation, getting rid of these weapons, the mechanisms by which they will be destroyed, and that price is really no object, that whatever the price is required, the money will be found, and if it needs to come from the United States it will be there. Can you say that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that this is all premature. I haven't seen anything beyond what President Assad has said about --
Q But it’s going to cost -- everyone knows that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let's just --
Q What I'm trying to get at is the commitment of the United States government to prioritize that in tax dollars, because it's --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we certainly believe that successfully implementing this framework -- and by successfully, I mean removing from his control Assad's chemical weapons and ultimately destroying them -- is very much in the interest of the United States, and is, as a matter of cost, comparatively, when you talk about using military force. Again, without dealing with numbers, the use of military force is costly no matter how you look at it even when you're talking about something of limited duration and scope.
So it is profoundly in our interest and it is an economical proposition, broadly speaking, to remove successfully Assad's weapons from him and destroy them. I would also say that this is a goal that is an international goal, and it is a goal that is being worked on with partner nations, and worked on with fellow members of the United Nations Security Council. So the responsibility for fulfilling the framework will not rest with the United States only.
Q One last thing about the Saturday deadline. You obviously know, as people scrutinize Syrian compliance, the first and lowest hurdle of that compliance is providing information they already possess. That should not be a difficult timeline for the Syrians to meet, since they already have the information themselves. And any slippage of that Saturday deadline would suggest to people looking on the outside that the United States might be flexible in ways it ought not to be to achieve compliance.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we will evaluate --
Q -- information they already possess should be handed over to prove their seriousness with complying with this particular --
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn't disagree with that. And I think that we will evaluate Syria's seriousness about compliance, based on a variety of benchmarks. And the first one is the seven-day deadline.
Q The expectation of this government is that that information is provided on Saturday and not a day later?
MR. CARNEY: We certainly expect that Syria will uphold its responsibility to provide this initial piece of information. And we will evaluate their seriousness based on both their timeliness and the content of their submission.
Q Can you tell us what the White House's purpose was in calling the Hill yesterday on the Fed nomination?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not aware that the White House called the Hill on the Fed nomination or any nomination. You have to frame your question in a way that I can answer it.
Q We heard that the White House -- it was reported that White House officials placed some calls to Banking Committee members to talk about the Fed nomination.
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything new for you on that or any other personnel matter.
Q Jay, the stock market, of course, yesterday rose to new highs. I'm sure you know about that.
MR. CARNEY: Let me just say I don't comment on Fed policy.
Q I know that. I'm not asking about Fed policy this time. But does the President have any concerns that a potential government shutdown, or a potential default, or both would damage investor confidence?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, yes. Unquestionably. Because history proves that it would be damaging to confidence in the U.S. economy, especially when there's even a flirtation with default. We saw it in the summer of 2011. Every economist will tell you that our economy took a hit because of the suggestion that we might actually default because of the ideological demands placed on those negotiations by Republicans.
That was a bad outcome and wholly unnecessary. And we need to make sure that we don't repeat it -- which is why we should -- when it comes to the responsibility, never unmet, of ensuring that Congress pays the bills it incurs, it should just be done. And nobody should attach poison pills to it and say that if I don't get my poison pill, then let default happen. That's just irresponsible. And that's the position we’ve taken because of the threat to our economy that even the flirtation with default poses.
Q All right. To follow on Major’s question on Iran, is it accurate then to say that the White House is open to or preparing for a meeting?
MR. CARNEY: There are no meetings currently planned.
Q I understand that.
MR. CARNEY: And the openness question I answered. We’ve been open as a general proposition to bilateral discussions with the Iranians since the President took office. And that was a controversial position in the Democratic primaries. It was a controversial position in the general election in 2008, but it was the position the President believed was the right one to take. And it’s the position he holds today. It’s conditioned upon Iran being serious about wanting to resolve this obstacle, which is its insistence on developing a nuclear weapons program.
The way to rejoin the international community and relieve the pressure on the Iranian economy that has been imposed on it by this sanctions regime is to come to terms with the international community, forsake and give up in a verifiable way Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and then move forward. So we believe there’s a window of opportunity that remains open to do that. It will not remain open forever, and we have been certainly interested in some of what we have heard from the new Iranian government about their interest in improving relations with the international community.
Q And what about the trip tomorrow? Can you tell us anything -- is that part of the middle class tour thing?
MR. CARNEY: I think we'll have more information on it, but the answer is, he will be, obviously, talking about the economy.
Q Yesterday, to the business roundtable, the President said he was willing to discuss Republican priorities. Is one of those priorities the Keystone Pipeline? Was that on the table?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, if the President said he was willing to discuss Republican priorities, I think that’s consistent with what he's said all along and demonstrated in all the negotiations he's had over the years with Republicans over economic and budget policy. I don’t have a specific item to hang on it. The decision about that pipeline obviously is something that’s reviewed and evaluated and housed over -- by and over at the State Department.
So I think what the President said goes to what we've been discussing earlier, which is, when it comes to reaching a broader budget agreement, the President has consistently been willing to seek common ground and to make reasonable concessions to Republicans and to their priorities. What he has not been willing to do is stick it to the middle class in order to achieve some of their ideological agenda priorities, and reach a compromise that benefits the wealthy and corporations, rewards insurance companies, but doesn’t help the middle class -- in fact, hurts the middle class.
But, as you saw in his budget submission this year, as you saw in his negotiations with the Speaker of the House at the end of last year, he has been willing to put forward a plan that addresses some of their stated priorities, and a plan that, as scored by outside groups, would significantly reduce the deficit further beyond what we've done thus far, and do it in a way that goes beyond the sequester, replaces the sequester, but allows for investments in the middle class and investments in our future by doing it in a balanced way. That’s his position, as it ever has been.
Q Jay, on immigration -- the President said the other day in the interview with Telemundo that there's nothing more he can do about deportations. But immigration advocates are calling this a moral crisis, the number of deportations under the Obama administration. Is the White House basically saying that if Congress does not pass immigration reform, your hands are tied, there's nothing else you can do, and these high numbers of deportations will continue the next three years?
MR. CARNEY: What he has said and what he said in that interview is that there isn't a plan B here to comprehensive immigration reform. And when it comes to deportations, or trying to freeze them, he said, "To do so would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that is not an option." And that’s just the case.
Q So there are no other options? There's no other things the White House can do other to stop or --
MR. CARNEY: Pass immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform. The whole purpose of doing immigration reform in a comprehensive way is that doing it that way solves a lot of problems, helps the economy, helps the middle class, increases growth, reduces the deficit, and resolves a lot of the problems around the 11 million undocumented people in this country, and provides a clear path to citizenship with a lot of hurdles along the way, but a clear path.
So it was that approach that garnered a broad, bipartisan majority in the Senate. And it is that approach that if the Speaker of the House took a break from the civil war he's engaged in with his own party and put the Senate bill on the floor, would get a majority in the House, and then the President could sign it into law and do the Republican Party a huge favor by removing this problem for their political future.
Q Some of the White House allies on immigration, some of the groups have said in recent days after that interview, that the President -- if immigration reform isn't passed, and in some ways it's out of the President's hands, he could go down as having one of the worst records on immigration because of those high levels of deportations. What's your reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: The President is obligated to enforce the law. And as he said in Telemundo, there's not -- immigration reform proponents should not believe that there is some plan B here that is a viable alternative to the House of Representatives doing the right thing by America and allowing a bill that has broad support across the country, that has broad bipartisan support in the Senate come to the floor so that it can be voted on and passed. Just do it. It won’t hurt. And the benefits will be enormous for the economy, for the middle class, and even for the Republican Party.
Q Two quick Congress questions. You said earlier that the President would be in conversations with congressional leaders in the coming days. Can you elaborate on who he will speak with, when, and in what format?
MR. CARNEY: I can only say that you can expect that he’ll have conversations with leaders in Congress about these looming deadlines and about the need for Congress to do the right thing, make sure they don't shut down the government and make sure they don't default. I don't have any more details for you.
Q And there are some congressional Democrats who believe a short-term continuing resolution locking in sequester and what they believe are huge cuts in investments to education, infrastructure, other things the President believes in, would be a bad thing, perhaps even worse than shutdown. Why is a short-term CR better in the President’s view?
MR. CARNEY: Than shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: The administration is willing to support a short-term continuing resolution to allow critical government functions to operate without interruption, and looks forward to working with the Congress on appropriations legislation for the remainder of the fiscal year that preserves critical national priorities, protects national security, and makes investments to spur economic growth and job creation for years to come.
That's our position that we should -- that as an alternative to a bigger budget deal, which unfortunately doesn't look achievable between now and October 1st, the government must not be allowed to shut down, and that we would be willing to support a short-term continuing resolution to allow time for further negotiations.
We have seen because of the -- in one of the episodic examples of the House Republicans’ inability to pass legislation, the bill through the transportation and housing committee that was based on the Ryan budget failed. The House Republican budget is not an option, obviously. And we need to negotiate further to find a compromise that allows for investments that are necessary to spur economic growth.
Q When the President has done these middle class economic events on the road before, Republicans often accuse him of engaging in campaign-style politics, particularly when there are crises in Washington. Can you address that concern?
MR. CARNEY: The President of the United States, as was true of all of his predecessors and will be true of all of his successors, believes that it is absolutely the right thing to do to travel around the country to talk about his agenda and what we need to do as a nation to grow the economy. He’ll continue to do that. And, ultimately, members of Congress of both parties should cast their votes based on what they believe is right for the country, not because this President or any President says they should vote one way or the other.
And so, because we live in a democracy, and because we have representative government and we have Congress, and two houses of Congress, it’s important to talk to the people who then are able to express their own opinion about what they think we should be doing in Washington. And he’ll continue to do it.
Q Can I also ask -- in 2011, it was reported that in the White House some were arguing that Republicans should get their shutdown and learn their lesson. That’s obviously not the White House’s public posture now; it’s not the President’s opinion. But have there been any people in the White House arguing for that this time around?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’ve heard. Look, it is not good -- it would not be good for the middle class of this country, or for our general economy, to see a lapse in the funding of government, essential government operations. It hasn’t been in the past, and it wouldn’t be in the near future. So that’s why, in answer to Jonathan’s question, we are willing to accept a short-term continuing resolution keeping funding at current levels to avert a shutdown and allow us time to continue to negotiate over a sensible compromise on a broader budget agreement. All of that would be easier if the House would simply appoint conferees, as they said they would, to negotiate the budget passed by the Senate and the House. But because they haven’t done that for the past six months, and we obviously need a little more time, we would support that short-term CR.
But it is not our policy and not our view that a shutdown would be anything but bad.
Q Jay, on two subjects. Debate on the Hill right now -- Democrats and Republicans are fighting over SNAP. Where does the White House stand when it comes to these large cuts in SNAP?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as we said at the time when this was evolving, it’s unconscionable in our view to literally take food out of the mouths of hungry Americans in order to, again, achieve some ideological goal. And there’s a very interesting article in National Review Online right now that argues that this is bad policy for the Republicans, that conservatives are crazy to do this and they should not do it. It is wrong.
This program lifts 4 million people out of poverty every year. And to punish them when we can protect the most vulnerable Americans, move forward economically, grow our economy, invest in our economy, and reduce the deficit if we do it in a balanced and responsible way, is just terrible policy and it’s insensitive.
Q I want to go to another subject. I’m looking at a February 25th, 2013 briefing on whitehouse.gov with Janet Napolitano standing at that podium where you are, and all of this comes to play in the midst of a possible government shutdown October 1, the money woes in October that could be coming. And one thing that’s striking, it says -- and it kind of goes to the Navy Yard situation as well -- she responded to Ed Henry and she said, look, I don’t think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester. Did sequester affect what happened at the Navy Yard? Were there less patrol officers there because of sequester?
MR. CARNEY: I think I got this question earlier in the week, and I don’t have an answer to that. I’ve seen some answers from people who have in-line responsibility for it -- well, no, from folks at the Navy or the Navy Yard, and I would refer you to them. I’m not aware that that was an issue, and I think that what you saw was a rather remarkably fast first responders response, based on the accounts I’ve read. But having said that, I would refer you to the Navy Department, to Pentagon on it.
Q And staying in line on the financial picture, with that -- with what Janet Napolitano said in February, and again, looking at the picture in October, the possibilities of the picture in October, where will the nation stand? I mean, we asked her at that time, would we be vulnerable? She said yes --“yes.” Will the nation -- if there is a shutdown and other things happen in October, how vulnerable will this nation be with sequester already in play?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s no question, April, that a shutdown would have negative effects on millions of people and on our economy. And it’s wholly unnecessary to entertain a shutdown, again, for the purposes for achieving some empty political victory, which would turn to dust and ashes pretty quickly politically.
So we don't need to do that. We need to just responsibly find common-sense solutions to our budget challenges and not refight, re-litigate old battles. And, in that spirit, we've said that we would accept a short-term continuing resolution to allow for further negotiation. We've also said that in the name of the economy and in the proposition that the United States always pays its bills and meets its obligations, nobody should be entertaining for political purposes the prospects of default.
Chris, and then Mike.
Q The Oklahoma National Guard announced this week that it will no longer accept spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, despite guidance from the administration saying these benefits should be available nationwide. This means Oklahoma is joining Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana in withholding these benefits. Is the President aware of this and believe these installations are violating federal policy?
MR. CARNEY: I do not know the answer to the question about the President. I would refer you to the Department of Defense on it. And I can take your question and we can talk about it later. I'm just not aware of these developments.
Q Just a quick question, Jay. Why is the Vice President going to Colorado, not the President? Will the President be looking at a trip later?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any scheduling announcements for the President. Obviously, the President is going to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday and Tuesday. And the Vice President is going out to view the damage caused by the terrible flooding in Colorado and to meet with affected families.
Q -- scheduling thing?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think it's entirely appropriate for the Vice President to make this visit with Dr. Biden. I don't have any other updates on the President's schedule.
2:34 P.M. EDT
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