Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 10/17/13
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:50 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Welcome, as always, to your daily briefing, on this first day back from -- or, for many here in the White House, after the government has reopened.
I want to start by echoing what the President said about the many people just in our world here who were out of work for the past few weeks, and say how glad we all are to have them back and how much we appreciate what they do. In fact, we now appreciate it more than ever, knowing what it was like not to have them here. And I know that many of you work with folks in the Press Office and are glad to see them back, because there’s no question that those of us who tried to fulfill some of their responsibilities didn’t do such a great job.
And I also want to welcome back Jamie Smith, Deputy Press Secretary. It’s great to have her here.
I have no other announcements, so I'll go straight to the Associated Press.
Q Thanks, Jay. Congressional budget negotiators kicked off their discussions this morning. Does the President see a direct role for himself in those discussions, or is he basically going to let congressional Democrats do the advocacy on behalf of the budget priorities that he’d like to see?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what we are hopeful about is that Congress will seize an opportunity here to return to what has become known as regular order, which is have a budget conference where appointed members of the House and the Senate come together to try to reach a compromise budget.
Each house has a starting point, a budget that was passed. They also have a document in the President’s budget that reflects his views about what a broad-based budget compromise would look like, his views on the kinds of tough choices that he’s willing to make when it comes to a balanced approach to further reducing our deficit, as well as his views on the kinds of investments we should be making. And you heard him speak about some of those earlier today in the State Dining Room.
So our engagement with that process will be what it has traditionally been, which is to provide technical assistance, to provide insight into the President’s views on matters. But we certainly hope, as the President made clear earlier, that it is a success. Obviously this is a tough business; it always has been. But there is an opportunity here to find common ground, and the President sincerely hopes that members of both parties seize that opportunity.
Q The President, at the beginning of the year in his State of the Union address, laid out a progressive -- aggressive and progressive agenda for things he wanted to see this year, from gun control to expanded pre-K and urging Congress to act on climate change. Today we heard him outline his goals for the rest of the year as basically being able to get a farm bill, get a budget. Has the President had to scale back some of his expectations or lower his sights for what can be accomplished this year?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. Let me say two things in response. First, I think no one in Washington could possibly suggest that getting a bipartisan budget deal, getting comprehensive immigration reform passed on a bipartisan basis, and getting a farm bill passed on a bipartisan basis would be small or inconsequential in terms of the achievement.
The President laid those out because he made clear that those are things that Congress can do, working together in a bipartisan fashion, this year, in what remains of this year, because there are budgets that have been passed by the Senate and the House, and there is a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate and is waiting for action in the House. And there was a bipartisan comprehensive farm bill that was passed by the Senate that the House could act on, as opposed to pursuing the purely partisan effort that they worked on in the past.
But that's not the limit of what this administration will be working on or what can be achieved in the months and years ahead. Other issues that are obviously a focus for the President are his belief that a program that ensures that there is pre-K available to all in this country would be enormously beneficial to our nation. He believes that we can continue to take action on energy and climate issues, and he will do that. He’s committed to pursuing common-sense measures to reduce gun violence, as has been demonstrated throughout the year. And of course, college affordability is a subject that he has highlighted and believes the administration and also Congress can act on.
He identified those three objectives because those are three that already have some momentum in Congress. They require congressional action, and he was urging members of both parties to act on them before the end of the year.
Q But even those items that you held up as being really big accomplishments if we can get them done have already -- or are going to be real uphill battles and have already shown where there is a lot of disagreement in Congress to be able to get that through. Are you operating under the assumption that following the resolution of the crisis these past number of weeks that the dynamic is changed or the atmosphere is better for making progress on those issues?
MR. CARNEY: We hope it is. We have to hope for the best and assume the best here, because what we saw was that a lot of time and effort was spent because of sort of an ideological pursuit that led to the shutdown of government and to the threat of default, and it achieved nothing except for the harmful consequences to our economy that the President outlined. So rather than continue down that path, there’s an opportunity for Congress -- including those lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, who helped forge the solution to the shutdown and the threat of default -- in a way that moves the ball forward on all of these issues.
There’s no question they're all difficult given the current environment. And some of these -- especially the comprehensive immigration reform bill and a budget bill -- these are big items and they require bipartisan support. But we've seen that already in the Senate when it comes to immigration reform. We've seen it at least in conversations that the President has had with Republicans on budget issues.
When it comes to immigration reform, which is a big item to be sure, we're confident that if that bill that passed the Senate were put on the floor of the House today, it would win a majority of the House, and I think that it would win significant Republican votes, because I think there are many Republicans who agree that comprehensive immigration reform would help our economy, would make our middle class more secure, would make us more competitive around the globe when it comes to entrepreneurship and harnessing the talent of immigrants who come here and study and should be able to stay here to start businesses if we properly reform our immigration system, and who are interested in the enhanced border security provisions of the Senate bill.
So there's enormous opportunity here on big issues. And the President is not at all convinced by the skeptics who say that we can't get things done. He refuses to believe that. And that’s why he called on Congress to take action on these items today.
Q Thank you. As you know, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act has hit some snags along the way. Why didn’t the President mention that as among his priorities this morning?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I should have mentioned that in my list. That’s something, obviously, the administration is working on 24/7, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The items that the President mentioned, the three action items, were focused on things that Congress could do, working together, Republicans and Democrats. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act is something that the administration is engaged in, including the effort to address the difficulties and glitches that have occurred with the website.
And I think it's important to remember that the website is not, alone, the Affordable Care Act, and as I've done some in recent days, it's important to remind folks that even as there have been some challenges in enrolling through the website, those challenges are being addressed and progress is being made, and people are enrolling across the country. We're going to keep working on this to make sure that the consumer experience is improved, and that the interests of all those millions of Americans who have been exploring the options available to them through the new Affordable Care Act and the marketplaces will be rewarded with the opportunity to enroll for so many who have never had affordable health care options in the past.
Q But the individual mandate is a central part of the Affordable Care Act, and the website is an important part of that. Is he happy with the way it's gone? Does he -- would you anticipate any wholesale changes?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President made clear in an interview he gave the other day that he's not happy with it and has insisted that everybody work 24/7 to fix the problems that exist. But you have to remember, now that we've, hopefully, taken this out of a political context, that this is not just about the President's health care reform bill that some opposed and some supported. This is about a law that was upheld by the Supreme Court, that is being implemented and is providing benefits to millions of Americans across the country -- already is -- and is about to provide significantly more benefits to millions of Americans.
And as I’ve said in the past, the desire for millions of Americans and so many families across the country to have affordable health insurance exists outside of partisan preference. We’ve seen it reported in newspapers across the country, where individuals who identify themselves as conservatives or Republicans who opposed the President, didn’t vote for him, maybe vote Republican in congressional and local elections, say that they’re extremely happy with the fact that they now have affordable health care insurance options that they did not have before.
And I think one of the reasons -- and, in fact, it was stated by some of those who pursued this path -- one of the reasons why such an effort was made in these last several weeks to try to derail the Affordable Care Act was because of the recognition that the implementation of the law would make it so much harder for opponents to overturn it in the future because so many millions of Americans would see that it is delivering on the promise of affordable health insurance for them.
Q And just one question about the President’s remarks this morning. He made references to ideology, to extremism. In seeking collaboration with Congress, does the President need to take any steps to mend fences and improve relations?
MR. CARNEY: The President absolutely -- and I think has made clear in his comments, both last night and today -- believes that we all need to set aside other objectives and focus on the objective of helping the American people. And I don’t think there’s any question that the episode that we just went through occurred and was driven by a wing of one party in one house of one branch of government, with some considerable assistance by a couple of members from the other house in Congress.
But the President doesn’t believe that that approach is one that was supported universally by Republican lawmakers. He doesn’t believe it because he knows it from the conversations he’s had, the many conversations he’s had with Republican lawmakers. And he doesn’t believe it because he’s seen Republican lawmakers say to you, to reporters, how counterproductive it was, how harmful it was to the economy, how damaging it was to average Americans, how unnecessary it was, and how, in fact, harmful it was to the party itself.
As I’ve said in the past, the President believes strongly that we benefit as a country from two strong parties where there are differences of view but where there is a commitment to working together to try to resolve our differences where we can to move forward for the American people. And I think that’s the spirit of what the President talked about today, and it’s the spirit with which he’ll approach all the work that needs to be done.
Q Thanks, Jay. I’d actually like to follow on that. The President’s remarks weren’t perceived very well by Republicans on the Hill. If he really is serious about moving forward in a bipartisan way on some of these initiatives, why did he chide them for following bloggers and radio talk show hosts?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President made two things clear, which it is absolutely appropriate to do -- one, that, as I just said, the shutdown that we went through had real consequences, real costs, as did the threat of default that was precipitated by the strategy pursued by some on Capitol Hill. You can’t ignore that. You have to acknowledge it, identify it, and say that’s not the path we should be pursuing.
And he firmly believes that there are Republicans as well as Democrats who don’t want to pursue that path again, who want instead to work together and compromise, find common ground, so that we can resolve some of the budget challenges that face us and make sure that we’re investing in our economy and in our people in a way that is best for growth and job creation; that we can work together to pass for the first time in decades comprehensive immigration reform, so that we can gather the benefits from that for our economy and for our people and for our future economic growth; that we can move forward for rural Americans on bipartisan legislation in a farm bill that has the potential of being accomplished and finished by the end of the year.
So I think that the American people had to watch and were frustrated by the dysfunction that we saw here in Washington. The President made clear on numerous occasions his view that there are no winners when something like this happens because no politician wins when his or her constituents lose -- and everybody lost. Everybody -- every taxpaying American out there lost because of this wholly unnecessary shutdown and flirtation with default. We need to move beyond it and work together. And that was the essence of the President’s remarks.
I have no doubt that there were some Republicans who still espouse the strategy and think they did the right thing who took issue with what the President said. But I think many, many others agree that we need to work together to find common ground and move ahead for the American people.
Q A question on Obamacare. My colleague, our senior medical correspondent, created a login and a user name on healthcare.gov on October 9th. She’s still unable to use the website. Today she called the 1-800 number again, and two different representatives told her that she needs to create a new account. So last week HHS was -- we were told by HHS that operators were mistakenly given this script and they were telling people that their user names and their logins needed to be redone. But, I mean, is that true? They’re still saying this today.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think HHS has answered this. It’s not true. I don't know the specific experience that CNN had. There are no questions that --
Q But this is two different -- and they’re saying something verbatim and appears to be a script. It’s two different representatives saying the exact same thing.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I --
Q -- days after we're told that this has been corrected.
MR. CARNEY: Brianna, I would simply say two things -- one, that HHS has been answering these questions, A; and B, it’s not true that if you registered in the past that everybody has to reregistered. But there are certainly issues with the website and people have been working 24/7, around the clock to resolve them and make the consumer experience better.
Nobody is more insistent that that work be done and the experience be improved than the President, as he has made clear. But there is no question that that work is not done and that there are still problems, and we need to get them fixed.
Q So when is it done? Because he says he wants it 100 percent. It’s October 17th. We’re 17 days in here.
MR. CARNEY: Seventeen days into a 182-day period, correct.
Q But he said he wants it at 100 percent. So when do we see that? And who is held accountable for the failure of it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the people who are responsible for making it work are hard at work fixing the problems that need to be fixed, and that is the focus of the President’s attention and the attention of those at HHS and CMS who are working on this. And the President wants the work done so that the consumer experience is improved. And I think that it is important --
Q But the timeline --
MR. CARNEY: The goal is absolutely to make sure that Americans across the country have access --
Q What’s the date that it should be done? Is there a time? Is there a day that's the goal?
MR. CARNEY: It’s getting -- they are making improvements every day. I think that the President’s goal is that there’s a process in place through the various ways that people can get access to the information they need to enroll so that everybody who needs affordable health insurance in states across the country can look at the options available to them because of the Affordable Care Act, because of the marketplaces, because of the increased competition created by the marketplaces, and make choices that fit their budgets, that work for them because of the subsidies available for those who have low incomes.
And the result will be millions of Americans who have insurance who did not have it before. That’s the goal. And the goal is not about the website. The goal is to make sure that the American people who have been shut out of affordable health insurance options in the past have those options available to them. That is what this has always been about. And the President is making sure that his team and everybody working on this is focused on making it the best possible consumer experience that they can.
Q Jay, the President was vehement this morning when he said the American people are fed up with Washington. Does the President include the White House as some of the target of that unhappiness?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President made clear that there are no winners here. Everybody here looks bad when Washington can't function properly. And what you have seen again and again and again, Ann, from the President, from others on his team, from me, is a rejection of the assertion by analysts and reporters that this is a zero-sum game for political reasons; that somehow, there's benefit politically out of a shutdown where so many people are hurt and the economy is hurt. And we completely reject that. It's not the way the President views it, and it's not the way anybody here views it.
Q Does this change the way the President will deal with a congressional leadership, considering last week he had called in each of the groups from Congress and actually things began to start moving after Speaker Boehner was here? As you know from covering here, past Presidents have had regular leadership meetings on a regular basis, not just waiting for a crisis to happen. Does the President plan any change in the way --
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t bring it to this briefing, I think I had it at the last -- I'm not sure you were here -- where I read at least some of the multitude of meetings and dinners and conversations and coffees the President had with Republican lawmakers this year, and the Chief of Staff has had with Republican lawmakers this year.
The President, as was well reported by many of you, began his second term embracing the idea that more direct engagement with lawmakers of both parties was worth the effort. And he has done it throughout the year in hopes that he can work together with willing Republicans to find compromise, specifically on budget issues but not just budget issues -- comprehensive immigration reform, national security issues, and many others.
So he's going to continue that. And I don’t -- you would have to ask leaders in Congress about what led to the ultimate decision to pass bills that reopen the government and extended the debt ceiling. I think that, again, since this was a wholly unnecessary shutdown and flirtation with default, there are a lot of questions about why that path was pursued and how we ended up where we were.
The President’s position never changed. It never changed in a single one of the meetings that he had with Republicans here, the Speaker of the House or others. He was asking nothing in return for the simple action by Congress in doing its job, of keeping the government at spending levels that had been accepted by both parties and were promoted by Republicans, and fulfilling Congress’s responsibility to make sure that the United States could pay its bills.
He took that approach not just in the last weeks during this, but from the beginning. I think that it’s instructive to remember that the President made clear back in December of 2012, December 19th, he said, “I’ve put forward a very clear principle. I will not negotiate around the debt ceiling. We’re not going to play the same game that we saw happen in 2011, which was hugely destructive, hurt our economy, provided more uncertainty to the business community than anything that happened.”
On January 1st, when the so-called fiscal cliff was averted and legislation was passed that locked in tax cuts for middle-class Americans and raised rates for the wealthiest Americans, he said -- and I quote -- “One last point I want to make” -- which would suggest that it was very much on his mind -- “while I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed.”
So there was a relative simplicity to the position the President took, which is: I’m not asking for anything in return. Democrats aren’t asking for anything in return. Congress ought to do its job and not harm the American people by shutting down the government and threatening default.
Q I was just looking for lessons learned that you would apply to these next three --
MR. CARNEY: I think the lesson the President has learned throughout this process is that the value of the full faith and credit of the United States is so high that we cannot mess around with it. And he, I think, learned that lesson through the 2011 process and --
Q Yet he still ran into this.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you're misunderstanding the lesson. But the lesson was we can't have what happened in 2011 happen again. We can't get into a cycle here in Washington where the opposition --
Q You did --
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, we didn’t, because the opposition party, no matter who is President and no matter what party is the opposition party, can't imagine that it’s profitable to make policy or political demands in exchange for raising the debt ceiling -- i.e. agreeing to pay the bills of the United States, basically threatening default if you don't get what you want. And allowing that cycle to repeat itself and embed itself in the way business is done here in Washington would be hugely and, perhaps, permanently damaging to our economy. And the President felt very strongly that we could not let that happen.
Q Hey. I understand why President Obama doesn’t want to say that he won, but behind closed doors, would he admit that he stood up against efforts to force his hand to get him to give in on Obamacare, that Republicans weren’t able to force him out of his position on that, so in that sense, would you say he won this standoff? Although I know you don't want to be seen spiking the football or gloating.
MR. CARNEY: It’s not about being seen, because I think that way as if that's how we or he view it behind closed doors. If that's winning, it’s not worth winning. The harm it’s done to the American people, the harm it’s done to the American economy -- he doesn’t want that.
He does believe, absolutely, that he took the correct position in insisting that no ransom should ever be paid in return for Congress not defaulting -- by any President of either party or any future party. So he does believe that that was the right position to take and it was the right position to take for our economy and for the American people. But he takes no pleasure in the fact that it took Congress however many days -- 16, 17 days -- to pass bills that it could have passed in September and, had they done so, would have averted all the damage that was done to our economy and to the middle class, to our small businesses.
Q And can you elaborate on the very firm “no” President Obama gave us as he walked out the door last evening to Brianna’s question about does he think that we may go through this again in January? Why is he so sure that he turned around and said, “no” when asked that question?
MR. CARNEY: Because he believes that through this experience many folks here in Washington recognize that the outcome here was, again, good for no one, and in particular, not good for the American people or the American economy. And he believes that -- and he’s an optimist to be sure -- but he believes that that insight will prevail when it’s necessary to make sure that government functions are funded properly in the future and that proper actions are taken to make sure that the U.S. Treasury can always pay our bills on time.
So that's why he said what he said. Of course, it’s very hard refusing to answer a question from Brianna, regardless. But that's his answer because he believes Congress won't go down this path again.
Q I'd like a yes or no answer to this question, which is, are we going with the President to Tuscany? (Laughter.) It is a joke -- I'm sorry. He said that --
MR. CARNEY: I hope so.
Q -- he wants to go to Tuscany, but he wasn’t sure if it was going to be while he was still in office or after he left office.
Q The President invited Ed to Tuscany. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: That would be quite a buddy movie. (Laughter.) I know of no current plans to make a trip to Italy, although I would endorse any such plans that might be in the preliminary stage.
Q A couple of serious questions. NSA -- there's another report in The Washington Post suggesting the NSA has a very dramatic role in the drone campaign. I wonder if you could talk about that. But also, more broadly, Keith Alexander -- there are reports that he's planning to step down. Was this prompted by the Edward Snowden scandal? Was there any friction about the pace of reform there in terms of the transparency that the President has demanded?
MR. CARNEY: Let me go to the second question first. The answer is no. We can confirm that several weeks ago, General Alexander affirmed to the President that he intends to depart his post in the spring of 2014. When he was extended for the third time as the director of the NSA and head of Cyber Command in March of 2013, General Alexander indicated his interest in retiring next spring. And having served as director since 2005, and as commander of U.S. Cyber Command since 2010, General Alexander has served an extraordinary tenure and capably led these agencies through critical periods of growth and transition.
The President looks forward to continuing to work with General Alexander until his term is complete and thanks him and the men and women of the NSA for their patriotism and dedication as they work every day to keep all of us safe.
So this was something, again, that General Alexander had spoken to the President about a number of weeks ago and that he had indicated he would be doing, having extended already so many times.
On the other question, I can tell you that the National Security Agency is a foreign intelligence agency. It is focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets, including terrorists. Its activities are directed against these valid foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements from U.S. leaders in order to protect the nation and its interests from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
So I think that that is a higher-altitude answer that responds to the specific question about the article. I can't, as I've said in the past, answer every article about methods, but I can tell you that it's important to remember that the mission of the NSA is a foreign intelligence mission.
Q Real quick, last one. I want to follow up on Brianna's question about accountability on health care. We talked a few days ago about Robert Gibbs saying the rollout has been so bad, in his estimation, that there should be people fired. You've defended Secretary Sibelius. Short of somebody being fired, what kind of accountability will there be, specifically? I haven't heard you asked about this company -- two companies, I think -- GCI Federal and Quality Software Services. They've got millions of dollars in federal contracts for the website, the data collection, et cetera. And when even Robert Gibbs is saying it's been botched, is there an investigation of this company? Is this company planning to turn over -- this is millions of dollars in hard-earned taxpayer dollars. Is the government going to get some of that money back?
MR. CARNEY: Questions about contracts related to this are ones that should be addressed to HHS and CMS. I don’t have that information. What I can tell you is the accountability the President seeks today is the accountability that comes from those who are working on implementation, working around the clock to ensure that the consumer experience is improved, and that the whole process of implementation of the Affordable Care Act moves forward.
And again, it’s important to remember that this is not -- although there’s a lot of focus on it, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is not just a website. The website is simply a portal into a virtual marketplace for an average of 50 health insurance plan options per state for Americans on the individual market who -- many of whom have never had access to affordable, quality health insurance in the past, or at least not in the recent past. And getting all of that in place is the focus of the team, and that includes, of course, improving the consumer experience on the website.
Q But nobody being held accountable for the mistakes?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the accountability the President seeks right now is the accountability that comes from making the system better, improving the process for consumers, fixing the problems that have arisen, and making sure that millions of Americans for whom this program was created are getting the benefits that it provides.
Q Jay, a little bit earlier we heard from the President, effectively scolding Republicans for their handling of this most recent crisis. In real terms, how, going forward -- or I guess we should say, what will the President do differently in real terms going forward to try to build better relationships with the Republican members of Congress?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’d say a couple of things. One, I think the President described what happened, made clear that it was unnecessary, made clear that there were real, tangible, quantifiable damages done by the decision to shut the government down and flirt with default. I think that the scolding, if you want to call it that, was far less severe than some Republicans have received from members of their own party for pursuing this path. And I think that that’s been well documented in media reports. The President was much more focused on, in his remarks both this morning and last night, on what we can do moving forward.
Q So what’s he going to do differently?
MR. CARNEY: I think he will continue to reach out to members of Congress of both parties and make clear that he is open to any good idea, no matter who proffers is, no matter which party that person belongs to, if it’s an idea that will help grow the economy and create jobs; help, in a responsible and balanced way, continue the project of reducing our deficit and managing our long-term debt; will help us enhance our energy security, enhance our climate security; will help us pass comprehensive immigration reform.
The President is interested here in getting positive results for the American people, and he is willing to work with anyone who is interested in that as well. And he acknowledged today that there are some differences that we may not be able to bridge that are sincerely held, that aren’t just about political positioning, but there are areas where we can find common ground, and he identified three that are working through Congress right now that offer the opportunity for Washington to demonstrate to the American people that Washington can function, that bipartisan progress is possible. We saw bipartisan votes -- I think 80 senators, was it, who voted for the measure last night, and bipartisan vote in the House, and we’ve seen a bipartisan vote on comprehensive immigration reform. We’ve seen a bipartisan vote on a farm bill. There’s enormous opportunity here to get some significant work done on behalf of the American people.
Q Mitch McConnell was interviewed earlier today. He was, according to the reporter who spoke to him, “slightly dismissive” of the budget conference plan unless the President gets involved. Will the President be actively involved in those conversations?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President will be as involved as he and members of the conference believe is useful and necessary to help bring about --
Q Is that helpful and would it be useful?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, that's -- you’re citing one senator, the Minority Leader’s opinion about that. I think that -- our view is that the House passed a budget, the Senate passed a budget; that's how the process is supposed to work. The Senate obviously is controlled by one party, the House by another. The two sides can conference. The President has already demonstrated a level of seriousness here through the budget he put forward -- the very detailed budget he put forward -- that includes tough choices for Democrats as well as for Republicans. And I think he will engage as useful and necessary, as will his team, to provide the kind of assistance that could be helpful as this process moves forward.
There’s no question it’s hard, but we shouldn’t give up on it before it starts.
Q Can you take us behind -- finally, can you take us behind the curtain very briefly if you would? Earlier today we saw Chief of Staff Denis McDonough greeting returning formerly furloughed workers. We saw Vice President Joe Biden doing the same. Secretary Vilsack did the same thing. Did President Obama make the rounds of some sort and greet some of the returning workers? And can you kind of take us back there and tell us what it looks like inside the White House when 80 percent of the staff that wasn’t here returns?
MR. CARNEY: It’s total chaos. (Laughter.) They’ve forgotten where to go. They don't know where the bathroom is. No. (Laughter.) Well, it’s a lot more crowded, and it is wonderful to have folks back. And the President has obviously had a series of meetings, including the statement and his usual national security meeting, but he has said hello to a lot of people who haven’t been around, including some from his own immediate staff outside the Oval Office.
And we’re all really glad that this is over, much more so for the broader community that paid a price for the shutdown, but also for us, because our colleagues here, as the President said, are here because they believe that service is good. And I think that’s true, too, of every staff member from either party on Capitol Hill who was furloughed. They're doing this, especially those young people, because they thought they would come to Washington and they could see good things happen and be a part of it. And now they're back in those offices, and hopefully they're going to continue working towards trying to be a part of something good.
Q How large a scale agreement does the administration believe is realistic to come out of these budget talks? Are you all looking for something grand bargain-y along the lines of what they were discussing in 2011, or is this really the next fiscal year, dealing with sequestration kind of --
MR. CARNEY: I think it's probably not useful to set expectations when it comes to the size of a deal that could be achieved. I think we're interested in a larger budget agreement. That’s why the President put one on the table that represented a 10-year budget agreement that included deficit reduction, that not only eliminated the sequester but exceeded the sequester levels in deficit reduction, and that included within it key investments in our economy in pre-K for all and investments in infrastructure and innovation.
So his vision is big and broad, but he has also talked in the not-too-distant past about finding a deal on the tax reform interest that both parties have, and coupling it with the interests in investing in infrastructure development that both parties share, which is just to say that there's ample opportunity here to craft a budget agreement that rewards the interests of both parties, especially their shared interests, and does it in a way that’s fair to the middle class and that gives our economy a boost instead of a kick in the shins.
So we're, again, optimistic that there's an opportunity here. And the President hopes that Congress and the conferees will seize that opportunity.
Q So what kind of -- what is he advising them when he weighs -- he's engaged, as he said. So what message is he giving to lawmakers, particularly on the Democratic side, as they go into this? What should they be pursuing?
MR. CARNEY: While I appreciate that it's been at least a half a day since the government reopened, I don’t think that -- and the conferees have only just been named, I don’t think that we're at the level of giving instructions to conferees. The leaders of both houses are fully capable of doing that.
The President has put forward a budget. The Senate and the House have passed budgets. Our interest -- I think the President's view is reflected in what he said today, which is that there is common ground here, and we could reach an agreement here on a number of issues that are related to our budget priorities. And he hopes that the process bears fruit.
Yes, sorry. And then Cheryl.
Q Okay, thank you. Totally different subject. Egyptian foreign minister had an interview yesterday, and he said that relations with -- between the United States and Egypt are in turmoil, and entire Middle East could suffer. He also added, "the Egyptian people will not hesitate to bear the consequences of such a situation in order to preserve their freedom." Does the U.S. really think Egypt is on a path to freedom and democracy with this new leadership?
MR. CARNEY: Let me just say that, as I noted when we talked about the adjustments in our systems programs, we are committed to our relationship with Egypt, and continue to provide assistance to Egypt, which reflects that commitment. We believe that it's necessary to support a process that restores a democratic governance there through a democratic election, and that's a commitment that the interim government has made. But we’ve also taken the actions that we’ve taken for the reasons that I laid out before. So I don't have anything new on that that isn’t the same as what I talked about the other day.
Q Do you see -- are budget negotiations and the next increase in the debt ceiling tied in some way so that if they can reach a budget agreement, it will be easy to raise the debt ceiling in February, but if they can't reach a budget agreement, it will make it difficult somehow?
MR. CARNEY: That's the existential question. (Laughter.) I think that -- the President’s view is consistent with what he said in December of 2012 and January of this year and what he’s been saying for the last several weeks, which is Congress must not and should not and cannot flirt with default. It must, without drama and delay, take action to ensure that the United States, as it has for more than 200 years, can pay its bills on time and retain its full faith and credit.
So as the President said in reaction to Brianna’s question last night, he doesn't expect to have this kind of manufactured crisis repeat itself when these two deadlines approach because he doesn't believe that members of Congress want to engage -- broadly speaking -- obviously, there may be individuals who have a difference of opinion on this -- but that most members of Congress, including leaders, believe that this was a profitable exercise, because it was so clearly not. It so clearly did harm to our economy and to the average folks out there who are just trying to make ends meet and get by and get ahead.
So I can't predict all the things that will lead us to those moments except that there are opportunities through the budget conference to get an agreement for a longer-term budget deal, and then, separate and apart from that, as it should be, that necessity of ensuring that the United States pays its bills will always remain.
Q Jay, the President has talked about Washington needing to work to earn back the confidence of the country. As he reflects on his own performance on budget issues and what he needs to do to win back the confidence of the country, does he think he needs to do more to bring his party along toward the kind of budget changes in the long term that he has set through his budget and other statements that he’s willing to make if Republicans compromise?
MR. CARNEY: I think if the question is does he think it’s necessary for him to lead his party in making these tough choices, the answer is yes. I think adding more to that suggests that he hasn’t delivered on that need for leadership, but he has. I think as you, in particular --
MR. CARNEY: I’m just saying that there’s no question that some of the choices and decisions the President has made in the process of negotiating with the Speaker of the House, going all the way back to 2011 and through the various iterations that we’ve seen, have resulted in the President putting forward compromise proposals that represent in some cases tough pills for Democrats to swallow. But Democratic leaders have been willing to do that as part of a comprehensive and balanced approach.
And what we have yet to see in this process, but we hope we will see it, is a similar kind of willingness by Republican leaders, on behalf of Republican lawmakers and with the support of Republican lawmakers, to do the same -- to accept compromise, accept that there are some things that in order to get that compromise and in order to get some of what they want, they’re going to have to go along with. And that’s the nature of compromise.
Q But you believe and the President believes that Democrats are prepared to take the steps on Medicare and on Social Security needed to get a long-term deal?
MR. CARNEY: Obviously you should refer to them, but I would point to the publicly reported statements in the past of support for the approach and the offers that the President has made, and the budget that the President put forward -- which is not to say that on some of these issues, there won’t be some Democrats who feel very strongly that they’re too difficult. But the fact of the matter is the President has demonstrated leadership on this issue by, in these negotiations that he has had with Republicans, by saying that he can deliver the votes necessary -- or he, working with congressional Democratic leaders -- the votes necessary for a comprehensive, balanced budget agreement.
And as you know, knowing the history as well as you do, we came close to some agreements on a couple of occasions, but there was not the ability by Republican leaders to say the same and to deliver the same.
But it’s a new day, and maybe that dynamic will change. We certainly hope it will.
Q Just to follow up somewhat, in light of the damage that these fights over the debt ceiling have done and continue to do not only in the U.S. but in the world economy, has the President considered urging Congress to simply repeal the law establishing the debt limit?
MR. CARNEY: The President has simply urged Congress, because the authority rests entirely with Congress, to use that authority responsibly. And how they use it is obviously up to Congress. We’ve seen the way that they dealt with it in the legislation that passed last night, and the way they dealt with it in the agreement from the end of last year and the first of this year, and that was obviously a somewhat novel way to approach it.
His interest is not in taking from Congress power that’s invested in Congress. His interest is in seeing Congress ensure that that power is used responsibly so that we do not threaten default again in this country, because the damage of the mere flirtation with default is so clear now on two occasions. So how Congress addresses this in the future is up to Congress. The President’s perspective is simply that they do it in a way that never threatens the full faith and credit of the United States.
Q Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: James.
Q Jay, thanks very much. I wanted to ask about a completely different subject. The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, as you may know, last week held its ninth hearing on the subject of Benghazi. Seven of them have been classified, as was last week’s, where the witness was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey. I know that you have covered the particular subject matter before in this briefing room, but it has resurfaced in a fresh context as receiving fresh scrutiny from these House Armed Services Committee investigators, and therefore I thought it fair to give you another chance to address it. They accept the White House’s conclusion that no military rescue or response could possibly have been achieved in Benghazi that night because the posturing of U.S. military assets around the world was so poor on that night. And this has led them --
MR. CARNEY: That’s the statement of a House Republican subcommittee chairman, correct?
Q Well, that is their conclusion. And this has led them to refocus their attention on a press release that your office issued on September 10, the day before the attacks. It was very brief, it was four sentences. But it essentially stated that the President on that day, September 10, 2011, had met with key national security principals to assure that as the eve of the 11th anniversary of 9/11 approached, steps were being taken to assure the protection of U.S. personnel and assets. It alluded further to meetings that John Brennan at that time had held.
The House investigators have determined that General Carter Harm, the combatant commander with jurisdiction over Libya, was not consulted as part of those sessions. I wonder if you could tell us more about what those meetings entailed, who the participants were, how closely vetted that -- or thoroughly vetted that press release was, and whether the White House might be willing to make available either to congressional investigators and/or to the public the emails, the memos and other sort of paperwork that was associated with the development of that press release.
MR. CARNEY: James, the President of the United States, as did his predecessor, received a briefing from his national security team, principals of that team, on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11 on the actions that were being taken both here in the homeland and around the world in preparation for potential threats.
If your question is, was the preparation for -- or was there adequate security at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi to protect the Americans there, the answer is categorically no, as the President said after the attack in Benghazi -- which is why he said he would make sure that his administration did everything it could to bring those to justice who killed four Americans. And he endorsed the effort undertaken by former Secretary Clinton to set up an independent Accountability Review Board to investigate the situation both before, during, and after the Benghazi attacks, with a particular focus on the question of security. And they found problems with security and made a series of recommendations that Secretary Clinton and her successor, Secretary Kerry, have addressed in full -- every single one of them.
So I’m not sure I understand the question focused on a press release, which I think I probably also discussed here, as I think my predecessors of both administrations have done, which is that because of the nature of the anniversary, there are preparations made in anticipation of potential threats, but it is clear -- because four Americans died on that day -- that there was not adequate security. And that was revealed in the Accountability Review Board. It was revealed in the testimony at 13 congressional hearings that this administration has participated in, with 40 staff briefings and 25,000 pages of documents.
Efforts by that committee that you mention -- I believe it’s that committee -- to denigrate the credibility of the Accountability Review Board were rejected quite powerfully by the independent inspector general who said that there were no signs of bias in the Accountability Review Board -- a board which, by the way, was headed up by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen and one of the most admired diplomats who served Presidents of both parties, Ambassador Pickering.
The President remains committed to ensuring that every step is taken that we can take as an administration and with Congress to enhance the security of our personnel serving overseas, recognizing that by serving their country they of course are in some places and in some cases putting themselves at risk. He is committed to doing everything that we can as a country and a government to bring to justice those who are responsible for the deaths of for Americans. And those are the issues that he believes are most important.
Q Your reply to me focused on the work of the ARB, which, as a statutory issue, does not have jurisdiction over military posture and deployment. And your answer to me also emphasized the question of security at the consulate itself. But the piece of Benghazi over which the House Armed Services Subcommittee that I’m talking about does have jurisdiction is not with respect to the ARB’s work or with respect to the DS facilities onsite at Benghazi. It is with respect to the posturing of the military in a volatile time around the world, which as we now know from retrospect, was so poor as to make rescue and remedy impossible
MR. CARNEY: The core statement is a reflection of an assessment made by Republicans who have, as you know, attempted, unfortunately, to make this a partisan issue.
Q Allow me to finish the question.
MR. CARNEY: And I would simply say when it comes to -- and I know that we’re creating an exchange here for FOX, and I’m mindful of that. But allow me to suggest that questions about the posturing of defense forces are usually better addressed at the Pentagon.
Q My question to you, Jay, is -- first of all, what we’re engaged in here is not for FOX. It’s for the record. And the fact that the posturing was such that it made remedy or rescue in that situation impossible is not a conclusion solely of the House Armed Services Committee or of Republicans, it's a self-evident fact. So all I'm trying to ask you is, with respect to these meetings that the President had with key national security principals the day before those attacks, how is it possible that you can maintain that adequate steps were taken, vis-à-vis force posture, by the Commander-in-Chief and his aides, when in fact the posture is now universally acknowledged to have been such that it made remedy or rescue impossible?
MR. CARNEY: Again, James, I think I said very clearly that there was not adequate security to protect those four Americans. And the President has been absolutely clear and forthright about that, as have the numerous investigators who have looked into this, including, of course, the Accountability Review Board.
I think when it comes to how the U.S. military positions its assets, again, that is a question best answered by the Department of Defense and by commanders. But you get no argument here from the suggestion that there was not adequate security there. That is self-evident, as you said. And the administration's cooperation with investigations here has been exhaustive. It includes, obviously, the full cooperation with the Accountability Review Board, whose credibility has, unfortunately, despite the stature and independence of those who were in charge of it, been questioned by partisans on Capitol Hill.
And I think that this reflects, unfortunately, the kind of partisan gamesmanship that so frustrates the American people when we need to be focused on making sure that adequate security is provided at our diplomatic facilities around the world so that our personnel serving abroad are protected; making sure that the intelligence and resources that we can apply are being applied to bring to justice those who are responsible for the deaths of four Americans; and making sure that we continue to provide the resources necessary to our military, and the rest of our national security apparatus, to allow it to keep us safe. And that’s what this President is committed, to and that’s reflected in everything he does and says about this issue.
Q Will he be willing to make any of those documents associated with that press release available, as you did with the Susan Rice talking points?
MR. CARNEY: James, I think we're done here.
2:52 P.M. EDT
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