Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 11/19/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:29 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your patience. I wanted to wait before coming out here until I could get a full read out on the President's meeting with a group of United States senators.
Today, the President hosted a meeting at the White House with chairmen, ranking members and other members of the Senate Banking Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss Iran. The President was joined by his national security team, including Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice. The meeting lasted approximately two hours.
The President made clear that achieving a peaceful resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is profoundly in America's national security interest. The initial six-month step of the P5-plus-1 proposal would halt progress on the Iranian nuclear program and roll it back in key respects, stopping the advance of the program for the first time in nearly a decade, and introducing unprecedented transparency into Iran's nuclear activities while we negotiate a long-term, comprehensive solution. The President underscored that in the absence of a first step, Iran will continue to make progress on its nuclear program by increasing its enrichment capacity, continuing to grow its stockpile of enriched uranium, installing advanced centrifuges, and making progress on the plutonium track at the Arak reactor.
The President noted that the relief we are considering as part of a first step would be limited, temporary and reversible, and emphasized that we will continue to enforce sanctions during the six-month period. He dispelled the rumors that Iran would receive $40 billion or $50 billion in relief, noting that those reports are inaccurate.
The President expressed his appreciation for the bipartisan congressional support for the most effective sanctions regime in history. He reiterated that the purpose of sanctions was and remains to change Iran's calculus regarding its nuclear program. He indicated that new sanctions should not be enacted during the current negotiations, but that they would be most effective as a robust response should Iran not accept the P5-plus-1 proposal or should Iran fail to follow through on its commitments.
The President is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and firmly believes that it would be preferable to do so peacefully. Therefore, he has a responsibility to pursue the ongoing diplomatic negotiations before turning to other alternatives, including military options. With this current P5-plus-1 proposal, we have the opportunity to halt the progress of the Iranian program, roll it back in key respects, while testing whether a comprehensive resolution can be achieved.
With that, I'll take your questions. Julie.
Q Thanks, Jay. I have a couple of questions on that meeting. Did the President walk away from the meeting with any assurances from lawmakers about their willingness to pause sanctions for the period of time he is seeking?
MR. CARNEY: The President made the case that I just described to you. I won't speak for senators who were there. There was obviously a diversity of opinion represented in the room. I would point you to public statements by Senator Corker on this issue. And we certainly believe that with a new round of negotiations beginning in Geneva in just a couple of days that it would be appropriate for the Senate to pause before considering new sanctions to see if these negotiations can move forward and make progress. And if there is an agreement, a first-phase agreement, obviously a lot of interested parties will want to review that agreement and assess whether or not, as we've said, it will do something that hasn't been done in a decade, which is halt progress on Iran's nuclear program and roll it back in key respects.
So we are appreciative of the meeting. And the President obviously spent a fair amount of time with these senators, because this is such an important issue and Congress has been such an important partner in helping the administration and our partners and allies construct the most comprehensive and effective sanctions regime in history.
Q How does the White House view this next round of talks that starts tomorrow? Because of how close it seemed like the P5-plus-1 and Iran got in the last round, do you view these next couple of days as the last chance for Iran to sign on to this current agreement, and if they walk away, then maybe we have to move forward on other sanctions? Or is this perhaps the next in what will be a series of negotiations over the same plan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'd say a couple of things. One, the previous round of negotiations were constructive and progress was made. The P5-plus-1 was unified, but Iran decided that it could not at that time make an agreement.
We will see in Geneva whether or not Iran is prepared to reach an agreement with a unified P5-plus-1 that commits itself to, in a transparent way, taking steps to halt progress on its nuclear program and roll back certain important aspects of it, so that we can --
Q But if they're not prepared to accept that deal over the next couple of days, do you --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. I think that what we can say is that it is important when it comes to congressional action for Congress to hold in abeyance its potential for passing new sanctions for the time when it might be most effective. Congress has been a very strong partner with the administration in taking that kind of action and deserves credit in the effort to construct the sanctions regime, which, in turn, has led us to this situation where there may be a potential for resolving this diplomatically, where Iran, faced with the crippling effect of the sanctions, has changed its calculus, or at least appears to have changed its calculus.
So that is what we are testing, and it is certainly the Commander-in-Chief's responsibility, as he leaves all options on the table, including military force, to test whether or not we can resolve this peacefully through diplomatic negotiations. And that's what he's doing.
Q On another foreign policy front, there's a report that Hamid Karzai and John Kerry spoke today and resolved this issue of night raids in Afghanistan. That's one of the issues that's been holding up a deal on a post-2014 troop presence there. Can you confirm that there's been an agreement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you is that you already know because we've discussed that we reached general agreement on the bilateral security agreement when Secretary Kerry was in Kabul last month. Since then, discussions have been ongoing with the Afghans to finalize the text ahead of the loya jirga, including today between Secretary Kerry and President Karzai. As you know, the text needs to go through the loya jirga before any agreement can be declared final.
So we've been -- there are ongoing negotiations or consultations. The general agreement has been in place since last month. I would simply say that this negotiation or this agreement is not reached until the loya jirga has passed judgment on it.
Q But did Secretary Kerry and Karzai agree on what would go in the text on the raids today?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that this issue of raids has always been one that's been a subject of negotiation and conversation and consultation with the Afghans, and that the general issue of civilian casualties has, of course, been of concern, understandably, to the Afghan government and concern to the United States and to the administration, to the U.S. military, which takes extraordinary precautions to avoid civilian casualties. So it is certainly the case that this has been a subject of discussion between the United States and Afghanistan.
Q But that doesn’t really answer the question of whether there’s an agreement.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that what I can say is that there are ongoing conversations; that Secretary Kerry spoke with the President; that the general agreement was reached last month; that these conversations are continuing. And we look forward to consideration by the loya jirga.
Q Thank you, Jay. Back on Iran. To what extent did Israel and its concerns about an agreement come up in today’s meeting with the senators, and what did the President say about that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ve given you a pretty comprehensive readout. What has always been the case and I think is repeated in our conversations with members of Congress and allies is that we consult very closely with Israel on all these matters regarding Iran, as well as so many others -- one; two, that there is no daylight between the United States and Israel when it comes to the objective of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon; and three, the fact that we believe strongly that reaching an agreement, if it can be reached with Iran, that commits Iran in a first phase to halting progress on its weapons -- or its nuclear program for the first time in nearly a decade and rolling back key aspects of it is the right way to go, because as we seek to find out whether a comprehensive agreement is reachable, it is preferable to halt that progress and roll back aspects of it to the alternative, which is to potentially pursue a comprehensive agreement without any restrictions on Iranian behavior. That, of course, would allow Iran to continue to make progress in its program, and it would forsake the potential not only for halting the progress that’s underway, but from rolling back aspects of the program, which is what this agreement, if it’s reached, envisions.
Q Does the White House have a longer-term plan for keeping senators onboard with it regarding Iran so that Congress doesn’t try to start another push for more sanctions later if the White House isn’t ready? In the longer term, not today.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. The plan is what it has always been, which is to consult closely with Congress on these matters. Today’s meeting was part of that effort -- ongoing effort. Congress has been an important partner in the five-year effort under this President to make clear that Iranian behavior is the issue and to gather together an international consensus behind that premise and behind the most comprehensive set of sanctions ever put in place in history.
So we’ll continue to work with Congress. And what the President said and what others on his national security team have said is that we view the Congress’s best use of potential future sanctions as one where they could hold it in abeyance, essentially, and -- hold that option in abeyance and use it if Iran fails to meet its commitments or there is not an agreement with the P5-plus-1. So we think that would be more effective.
That’s the kind of conversation the President had with senators today, and this reflects the conversations that we’ve been having with lawmakers all along. And I’m sure that as this process moves forward, depending on the course it takes, we will have similar conversations going forward.
Q Okay. And one question on health care. Today, a respected security expert told Congress that the website puts user data at critical risk. How worried should Americans be about their data when they’re signing up to healthcare.gov?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. And let me get to my spot here. On the issue of security, as HHS has said, the privacy and security of consumers’ personal information are a top priority. When consumers fill out their online marketplace applications, they can trust that the information that they are providing is protected by stringent security standards. Security testing happens on an ongoing basis, using industry best practices to appropriately safeguard consumers’ personal information. The healthcare.gov website has been determined to be compliant with the Federal Information Security Management Act, based on standards promulgated by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.
So this is an ongoing effort. We are -- or CMS and HHS are constantly testing the system and making sure that it is meeting the security standards that are in place.
Q Are you not concerned about this testimony that says that user data is at critical risk?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, the story I saw also had, I think, if it’s the same individual -- and forgive me if it’s not -- but said that if -- I think he was quoted as saying, if I had to guess, then I would say this. And the thing is the folks obviously working on the testing of the system and the security of the system aren’t guessing. They’re testing it and ensuring that it meets the standards necessary so that the information provided by consumers is secure.
Let me move around. Alexis.
Q Jay, can I follow up on what Jeff asked? As you know, Henry Chao of CMS also indicated that the back end of healthcare.gov, the part that has to interact with the insurers, is way behind in terms of writing and completing the technical part of that, to actually do the billing and to create the coverage. I have two questions. Is the President at all concerned that getting that far behind in that part of healthcare.gov would prevent policies from being issued on January 1 for those people who have to make their selections by December 15th?
MR. CARNEY: I think what he testified to was the same as what he said on November 13th, which is that they are still building parts -- and this is a quote: “We are still building parts of the system to calculate payment, to collect the enrollment data from all the marketplaces and to make that payment.” That’s from testimony a week ago, or nearly a week ago. So the breaking-news alert today is actually not breaking news, unless you sort of do that on a monthly basis -- (laughter) -- breaking this month is that news.
So the point is we are still in the process of building -- they are still in the process of building aspects of the site that handle back-end issues. And I would point you to his testimony in terms of where they are in that progress. I think he said 30 to 40 percent of it.
Q But a month later, he's saying the same thing.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, a week. Six days.
Q A week later he's saying the same thing. So I'm just trying to ask, is the President concerned. I'm not talking about --
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President -- I think that the President is of course very focused on the need to continue to make improvements to the website. As I think some reporting has indicated, there have been noticeable improvements to the site over recent days and weeks, and we expect that to continue.
He is also focused on making sure that the aspects of the system that are still in build are completed on time. So there's work going on 24/7 to make sure that that happens. Because our goal, as I talked about yesterday, isn't to just build a highly functioning website, but to make sure that all aspects of the system are working in a way that allows Americans who are interested in purchasing insurance on the marketplace to do so, and find that they have affordable coverage available to them, often for the first time.
Q Second question -- Jeffrey Zients is the President’s pick to succeed Gene Sperling as National Economic Council Director in January. My question is, is the President considering making any adjustment to that assignment? Or, if not, if Jeff is going to take over the NEC in January, who will do what he is doing now on the health care project?
MR. CARNEY: The answer to the first part of the question is that Jeff Zients will be taking over for Gene Sperling at the National Economic Council in January. And I don’t have any other personnel announcements beyond that to make.
Q Can you just add -- would the President expect to find a successor manager to continue working this through into the New Year?
MR. CARNEY: Sure, that’s a good question. I just don’t have a personnel announcement to make.
Q Jay, a couple quick things. First, the President, as you know, many times said some variation of this -- we will keep this promise to the American people. If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. Is that promise still operative?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, the President made clear throughout the effort to pass the Affordable Care Act and throughout the period that continues to this day in which Republicans have sought to repeal it that the vast majority of the American people, those who have insurance through their employers, who have insurance through Medicare or Medicaid, will not see a change, and that includes to how their plans allow them to get access to different doctors.
The reality of the insurance system that we've seen over the years is that these plans change all the time. So there are limits -- if you're building on the private-insurance-based system that the President is doing, using the model from a Republican governor of Massachusetts, as he did -- this is not a government-run insurance program -- what is the case is that, if you're purchasing insurance in the marketplace, you have a variety of options available to you from less expensive plans to more expensive, more comprehensive plans.
And as is the case in insurance markets and networks all over the country, the more comprehensive plans tend to have broader networks. So if you are looking for -- if you want coverage from your doctor, a doctor that you've seen in the past and want that, you can look and see if there’s a plan in which that doctor participates. And that reflects the way that the private insurance system has long worked.
Q So is this another promise where he needs to kind of modify? Because that’s not what he said. He said, if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, period. But you just offered -- for the vast majority and depending on which plan you keep.
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I think everybody understands how the insurance system works. And what the President clearly talked about throughout the effort to get the Affordable Care Act passed and since, in his efforts to make sure that it is implemented -- against the constant assault by Republicans who want to repeal it and replace it with exactly nothing -- that the system is built on the existing private insurance system that we have in this country. And that allows for a reform that for the vast majority of the people, because they get insurance like you and I do and most people in this room, through their employer or through Medicare or through Medicaid or the VA -- for there to be no change beyond the added benefits that the ACA provides to all of us.
And then, if you are obviously uninsured, like 15 percent of the population, the only doctor you've been able to see is the doctor at the emergency room, and you now have, through expanded Medicaid in those states that wisely choose that option, or through tax credits that allow you to purchase affordable health care, you have a choice of doctor for the first time.
If you're in the private insurance market -- again, this is building on the private insurance market -- there’s an enormous amount of churn. If your insurance was canceled regularly, if it was changed regularly, that is part of a system that the ACA was designed in part to improve. And what is the case is that in state after state after state, individuals have more options than they've ever had before. They have different levels of coverage to choose from, and depending on the level of coverage they choose from, they'll likely have a broader network of doctors and specialists to be able to see.
Q Jay, if I can just get clarification on this Henry Chao testimony, you say what he said six days ago. Today, it seems he is much more specific. He is saying that 30 or 40 percent of this tech system that allows for the payments to go to the insurance companies has not even been built.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think they are building it, is what he said.
Q Yes. He said, 30 to 40 --
MR. CARNEY: I mean, Jon, I guess the --
Q You're not concerned about that?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I think again, breaking news, the website is a problem. And we have been --
Q This is a whole other problem.
MR. CARNEY: -- working on it. And I know that people who are trying to work 24/7 on the website are spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill, where they're repeating testimony that they gave six days ago, in some cases. But the fact is, yes, we're concerned about the website. That's why the President is focused so intently on making sure that the best possible teams are working on making improvements to it; that people are working around the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to fix the problems that the website itself has experienced and to ensure that all aspects of it are functioning when they're supposed to function.
And that's where we are on November -- late November in 2013. We're focused on a troubled website that needs to be fixed. We're focused on solutions to problems that exist, rather than an ongoing political effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act without any alternative. And what every critic up on Capitol Hill of Obamacare never adds to the sentence or the paragraph is what he or she would do in the alternative.
And that's because the alternative is a system where insurance companies, again, can deny you coverage because you have asthma or some other preexisting condition; where they can charge you double because you're a woman; where they can excise out coverage on a certain condition because you actually suffer from it; where they can give you coverage of a sort, but actually that coverage doesn’t include hospitalization, so you can be bankrupt in a minute if you get sick.
That's the debate we had. And, in many ways, while there is justifiable focus on the problems with the launch, that's the debate we're still having, because to this day Republicans have refused to offer an alternative. And if you don't offer an alternative, then you are passively saying that you prefer the status quo. And they ought to concede that and say they want a system where insurance companies can deny you coverage because you have a preexisting condition. They want a system where insurers can charge you double if you’re a woman, insure one child and not the other because one’s sick and one’s healthy.
That’s not what the President believes is right. And we are still having this debate, and engaging this debate obviously is made more difficult for us because of the problems with the website. And as the President said, that’s on us. It shouldn’t be that way, and that’s why we’re working so hard to fix it.
Q Can I just ask you if there’s anything to this report you can just knock down that interviews were faked in the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys on the unemployment numbers. Is there anything --
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I would refer you to Census. That story is obviously misleading. I think a lot of people shed a lot of credibility engaging in conspiracy theories last fall about rigged jobs numbers. I have to tell you, as somebody who’s been here for a long time, when month after month after month the jobs numbers came in and then later were revised upward, it sure didn’t feel like they were helping us. I remember the zero-jobs month in August of ’11. I think that’s now over 100,000 jobs created. Imagine how you and others would have reported it had the actual number been more accurate.
Q So you’ve heard nothing of any of this?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not.
Q Okay, right. Thanks.
MR. CARNEY: Brianna.
Q Thanks, Jay. On October 21st, the President cited the story of Jessica Sanford, a Washington State woman, as a success story. She was thrilled she had checked in to getting health insurance. She’s a court reporter who has a son with ADHD, and she was quoted a price that included a subsidy and she was very happy because she was going to be able to afford insurance. She’s now spoken to CNN. She cannot -- she’s found out actually that she does not qualify for a subsidy. It was revised down once. She now doesn’t qualify. And she simply cannot afford the insurance. Now, I’m wondering what the President’s message is for her, having used her as a success story, and obviously for a number of people who are in a similar situation.
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, as I know you I think included -- CNN included in its report but not in that question, is that Jessica Sanford is working with a state-based exchange and --
Q And it was the state exchange who --
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q -- quoted her that.
MR. CARNEY: And we’re obviously -- I saw the news coverage and don’t know whether or not the details are correct. But I can tell you that my understanding is Washington State health officials are reaching out to Ms. Sanford to make sure she has accurate information about her options, and I’d refer you to the Washington Health Benefit Exchange for more details.
And now, while that state exchange has done a lot of things right, we also know that they have recently had problems with errors in tax credit estimates, and we’re certainly as sorry as we can be that Jessica is one of the folks that has been affected by this, if that’s the case, as reported. I think also it’s important to note, again, as the state exchange looks into her personal situation and makes sure that all the numbers are accurate when it comes to whether or not she qualifies for a credit, that Jessica --
Q Are you -- do you think she may qualify for a credit?
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m saying I have no idea. I’m saying that she got --
Q I guess my question is more that she’s someone who it appears now she doesn’t, and yet it’s very expensive for her, and she’s saying she cannot afford it.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t know the numbers about what her income is, what the coverage cited to her is. I know based on your --
Q I mean, the President used her story.
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely, based on what she told the President and what she told the White House she had been told by the state exchange when she was initially told she would get a subsidy and therefore the coverage would be less expensive than what she’s being told now. In either case, this is not the federal-run marketplace; this is a state-run exchange, so we don’t --
Q But the concept of her being in a --
MR. CARNEY: Brianna, if I could just finish my sentence for one --
Q Everyone qualifies for certain subsidies. I’m just saying if she can’t afford it and she doesn’t qualify for a subsidy, and she’s --
MR. CARNEY: And what I’m saying, Brianna, is I don’t know her personal circumstances. And it’s my understanding that Washington State health exchange officials will reach out to her to make sure that the information she’s gotten is correct because there is -- obviously there has been, with her in particular, and with other individuals in Washington State, instances of errors in the information they’d been given. And that’s what led initially to her believing that she would get a tax credit and then to at least the current information that she won’t.
What I think is also noteworthy -- and I saw it in your report, or CNN’s report, so I’ll mention it now -- is that she says she’s still a supporter of the Affordable Care Act. And the Affordable Care Act is designed to give access to millions of Americans who, like her, have never had insurance before or have been uninsured for a long time, to affordable, quality health insurance.
Again, I don’t know her personal economic circumstances or what is affordable for her. But there is no question that, again, based on your reporting and our understanding of what she’s told us before, that she did not have insurance before, was uninsured before. So let’s --
Q But she said she was a supporter of the ACA, but she also feels that she has not been served well by the ACA. So what is -- I guess that’s the response I’m looking for.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you is that, again, I don’t know her personal circumstances. I don’t know her income level or what goes in to the calculation of whether or not she gets a tax credit. What I can tell you is that she did not get insurance at all, she was uncovered, she was uninsured -- one of the 15 percent with zero coverage, and whether --
Q And she’s saying she’ll remain uninsured now.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t know her personal circumstances. But when we’re looking at the fact that the Affordable Care Act would increase coverage in this country by tens of millions, the fact is that the status quo means that that 15 percent of the population remains uninsured, and that 15 percent grows, because that has been the case over decades now, since the last effort to reform health care in this country -- where the ranks of the uninsured have increased, where employers over years were shedding coverage, and premiums for all of us were going up. Health care costs were skyrocketing. And now, for the first time in 50 years, since data has been reported, health care costs are growing more slowly than ever.
Q But some people, like Jessica, may just fall through the cracks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t know her personal circumstance so I can’t keep guessing based on what you tell me. I can tell you that the Affordable Care Act is designed to provide affordable, quality health insurance to millions of Americans. What I can tell you -- this doesn’t apply to Washington State -- but there’s no question, because Republican governors around the country are making actually the fiscally unwise decision, as I think was reported about one state today, not to expand Medicaid, and they are choosing --
Q That’s not Washington State.
MR. CARNEY: I just said in my answer, Brianna, I just said this doesn’t apply to Washington. But there are millions of Americans across the country who are going to be denied insurance coverage because governors across the country decided for ideological reasons not to expand Medicaid to their citizens. And that’s certainly unfortunate.
And we’re working regularly with governors around the country and lawmakers around the country to make the case for why that is not the right decision for their constituents. And you have seen Republican governors in states like Ohio and Arizona and Florida make a different choice, because they know that’s the right thing to do for their constituents, because providing people without insurance basic coverage through Medicaid is the right thing to do.
Let me move around. Laura.
Q What is the White House reaction to the bombing of the embassy in Beirut today? And do you think in your opinion it has anything to do with the conflict in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: The United States strongly condemns today's terrorist bombings in Beirut, which occurred near the Iranian embassy. We extend our condolences to the victims of this tragic event and to their families. We call on all parties to exercise calm and restraint to avoid enflaming the situation further.
We support the government of Lebanon's commitment to conduct a thorough investigation into this attack. We look to all parties to cooperate with the investigation, and urge that those responsible are brought to justice. Acts of terror only reinforce our determination to work with the institutions of the Lebanese state, including the Lebanese armed forces and the internal security forces, to ensure a stable, sovereign and secure Lebanon.
In terms of the purpose of the attack and those responsible, we've seen reported claims, but obviously we're making, as others are making, early assessments.
Q But in this part of the world, people are saying that it's a direct consequence of what's happening in Syria. And now that Lebanon is completely --
MR. CARNEY: That’s a judgment that goes to claims of responsibility, and we cannot at this time, this early stage, independently confirm who is responsible. And until we can do that, it's hard to make a judgment about what the implications of the attack are.
Q Jay, I wanted to ask you first about Afghanistan and follow up on Julie. There's a Reuters report saying that Hamid Karzai's spokesman is claiming that President Obama is going to write a letter to the Afghan people acknowledging mistakes made in the war on terror. Can you rule that out, or --
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you is that we don’t comment on presidential correspondence and I don’t have any specifics on any language of a letter that hasn't been written.
More broadly, I would reiterate that we take every precaution to prevent civilian casualties and we always express regret when civilians are killed. This is not a new issue in our relationship. It's one we've discussed openly in the past, and it's one we continue to work through.
I think it is notable that our concern about potential civilian casualties is reflected in the extreme care taken by our military forces in Afghanistan, and that continues to be the case. And when there have been civilian casualties that have been verified, the military and the administration, the government of the United States has always regretted that and made clear that regret.
Q Health care -- on Brianna's questions about Jessica Sanford, you repeatedly said you don’t know the details, so if you don’t know the details, how could the President of the United States go out there and hold her up as a success story without someone here at the White House checking out to see how she would be impacted in Washington State?
MR. CARNEY: She contacted the White House, said what her circumstances were --
Q But no one checked that out and said, well, actually you'll pay more --
MR. CARNEY: But, Ed, my understanding is that that is what she believed her situation was at the time that she wrote to the White House and that she participated in this event. Again, if you look at CNN's report -- and I can't -- I'm saying I can't independently verify it, I'm not doubting CNN's report -- but that she was then notified that there were errors in the calculation of the tax credit that reduced her credit and then told her that she got no credit. That’s something that the Washington State exchange does.
What I can tell you is that at the time, she believed she was getting a tax credit that would make insurance affordable -- or more affordable for her. And I think it's important to remember -- again, very important to remember -- and I would encourage you, Ed, when you do this story, to focus on this -- that she was uninsured and is uninsured, and that the status quo ante for her and for 15 percent of the population is no insurance. It's going to the emergency room, so that everybody in this room and everybody around the country foots the bill. And that's bad for her and her family, bad for everyone of that 15 percent, and bad for our economy and bad for every one of us who has to bear the cost of that system.
Q The McKinsey & Company report that was done I believe back in March suggesting there might be problems with the website -- I'm going to give you a chance -- I haven't heard you asked about it yet, in general, and I understand you've been upset before about some of the documents Republican Darrell Issa has put out there, so I want to make clear they're being put out by a Republican -- if you want to respond, great. But specifically, I want to know, as you answer that, was the President briefed on that report?
MR. CARNEY: Here's what I can tell you. As we have said many times now -- I, myself, many times, and others -- and this has been frequently reported, flags were raised throughout the development of the website, as would be the case for any IT project of this size and complexity. Those issues, including the ones from six months before the launch, were, in turn, taken up by the development team housed at CMS. But nobody anticipated the size and scope of the problems we experienced once the site was launched, as we've discussed repeatedly.
Since that time, experts have been working night and day to get it functioning. And that is where our focus is and should be right now.
The review that you cite and that has been reported on took place in the spring of 2013 and involved an outside management consulting firm. It was a qualitative review based on interviews with project stakeholders within the government and reviews of relevant planning documents. The purpose of the review was to describe how consumers would use the FFM -- the marketplaces, the federal marketplaces -- identify risks that could affect the consumer experience and provide strategies to mitigate those risks. The review was not a technical review of the website's functionality.
The review recommended certain proactive steps to mitigate risks and those recommendations were acted upon. CMS, HHS has a rundown, but a few examples include: one, establishing a streamlined decision-making process to address critical path issues as they arose, a suggestion which was implemented by the summer. CMS also created a centralized interagency governance process to support efficient decision-making around operations.
Two, requirements for the website should be finalized promptly. That recommendation was accepted and the website requirements were finalized in short order. And then, three, to address concerns raised in the review about states' preparedness, CMS developed and communicated new milestones and deadlines to state-based marketplaces.
Q So the President was not briefed on it?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that, as you might expect, McKinsey -- which was the firm, the outside firm that was contracted -- provided a briefing on the review and recommendations for senior officials at HHS, CMS and the White House. To ensure that the recommendations were being addressed, these officials were subsequently briefed on actions being taken to mitigate the risks identified in the review. The President received regular briefings on various aspects of implementing the ACA, including the recommendations from this review and the steps that CMS, HHS and others had taken to address those recommendations.
Q So officials from the White House were briefed?
MR. CARNEY: A variety of officials involved in the effort.
Q And then it did make it up to the President, you're saying?
MR. CARNEY: The President was briefed regularly on aspects of implementing the ACA, including the recommendations from this review and the steps that CMS and HHS were taking in response to those recommendations.
Q So this now suggests that as early as March, all the way up to the President, they at least knew there were problems. Why wasn't that followed up on, then? It was suggested.
MR. CARNEY: They were followed up on. That's what I just said, that --
Q How? The website turned out to be a disaster.
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ed, again because we're in the breaking news business, it turns out that today we've learned the website did not launch effectively.
Q But here we have the President was briefed as early as March, and yet we still had this, as you call it "breaking news" that the website is a disaster. How did nobody fix it between March and --
MR. CARNEY: The review, if you carefully look at it, made observations based on the interviews about problems that needed to be fixed. It made recommendations that HHS and CMS adopted to improve the site.
Q But did the President follow up and say, have these changes been made, I was briefed in March?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. The President -- Ed.
Q Yes, so he did follow up?
MR. CARNEY: The President, as we've said repeatedly, got regular briefings and was told that there were problems that were being addressed, and that upon launch, as I've said -- and I can point you to the transcripts -- there would be glitches, there would be problems, but that certainly we never expected -- he was certainly not told and nobody here was told, because there was not this expectation that the site would perform as poorly as it did. And as he said to you last week, had he known that, he wouldn’t have been touting the launch of the website, as he and I and others were in the run-up to October 1st.
Q What's the rationale to the American public about boots on the ground in Afghanistan until 2024? As a couple of these draft proposals between the United States and Afghanistan, a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan could be there until 2024. What do you tell the American public?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let's be clear. The war in Afghanistan will end next year, as the President has promised. The combat mission will be over.
What we have said for a long time now, coming out of Lisbon and the consultations with our NATO allies, is that we would potentially come to an agreement with Afghanistan to engage in counterterrorist operations and the training of Afghan troops, a very limited arrangement that would not have, as the President said in his speech, would not see American troops patrolling cities or mountains. It would be a very limited mission to assist Afghanistan in its counterterrorism operations and to assist in the training and equipping of Afghan troops.
That has been something that we've been discussing now for quite some time. The conversations that we've been having with the Afghan government around the bilateral security agreement have focused in part on these issues. And if an agreement is reached and it is approved, we would certainly look at what limited troop presence might be required to fulfill that mission -- counterterrorism and training and equipping of Afghan troops.
That is not the war that we've been engaged in now for more than a decade.
Q But you get the weariness that's out there. I mean, the idea that troops are in harm's way and --
MR. CARNEY: Well, but we've discussed -- remember, we talked about there was --
Q You talked about this -- your option before.
MR. CARNEY: Right. And what we've made clear is that every option was on the table and we are still in the process of reaching a final agreement here. But that agreement has to be acceptable to the United States for --
Q But you get that the public looks at this and just sits there and goes, I don’t want to -- do you think the public --
MR. CARNEY: I think that when it comes to this President keeping his word and ending the war in Iraq, keeping his word and winding down and ending the war in Afghanistan, the public knows that he's keeping those commitments.
And we have been very clear since the NATO conference in Lisbon that there was the possibility of a small number of troops being focused on continued counterterrorism and training and equipping of Afghan forces, but that the combat mission, the war would end. You will not see U.S. troops patrolling mountains or cities in that circumstance, if an agreement is reached.
Q Do you think it's going to be more difficult to get the public to accept something like this now just given the weariness on --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that we have a dramatically reduced number of U.S. forces in harm's way than when this President took office. There are still men and women on the front lines in Afghanistan, and this President is very focused on making sure that the mission that he outlined with his national security team around our Afghanistan presence be the focus of their efforts and be acted on by our troops as we wind down the war in Afghanistan, in keeping with his commitment.
Q Quickly on health care -- is it fair to say that, given that there's -- let me put it this way -- can you confirm the reports that you're looking for other ways to deal with subsidies to insurance companies where the public, if they're eligible for subsidies they can bypass the website as -- is that definitely going to happen?
MR. CARNEY: You're talking about what's been defined as direct enrollment. As I said yesterday, and we've been saying and has reported for some time, direct enrollment has always been part of --
Q But usually with the subsidies, the assumption has been you still have to go through the website.
MR. CARNEY: There is no way to receive a tax credit without the website and the hub.
Q And you're still not -- you're not looking for an alternative way? Or are you --
MR. CARNEY: We're not looking -- we're simply looking to improve the avenues available that have been in existence from the beginning. And we are working with insurance companies to make that possible avenue where you can direct enroll -- i.e. you make a decision, perhaps after shopping online and getting a general sense of what the options are available to you, and then deciding I want to go with this particular insurance company and this plan, and then going to that insurer and saying this is what I want to do.
In order to get your tax credit, you still -- either the insurer on your behalf or you have to go through the hub. That still has to be done -- unless you want to directly enroll with a qualified plan and not even find out whether you're eligible for a subsidy. Perhaps your income is too high and you know you're not, so you might have decided I want this plan from this insurer, and you can go direct to that insurer and purchase that plan, that qualified plan without any interaction with the website.
Q Given the testimony on the Hill today about this issue, about being able to process payments to insurance companies, is it -- so the website on November 30th is not going to be able to do that? Is that why you would -- are all of these connected?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t follow all of the testimony. I would refer you to CMS and to the testimony about the progress in --
Q Is that why you're looking for -- but there isn't going to be an alternative way? If the website can't process subsidy payments to insurance companies, then how are you going to --
MR. CARNEY: That’s an "if" that I don’t know the answer -- whether that’s the case, so I would refer you to the briefings at CMS about that.
What I can tell you is that Mr. Chao testified, as I understand it, today, to what he testified last week, which is that there is still a portion of the site that is being built.
Q It has to do with the -- this portion.
MR. CARNEY: The back end --
MR. CARNEY: -- so that the enrollment part, with which we've had trouble is the one that has been -- that was launched and that is now undergoing substantial improvements. So in terms of the technical side of what that end of the website looks like, I'd refer you to CMS.
Q But can you say that’s a working -- this website is not working if you can't process subsidy payments, is it? I mean, at that point, what's the point of the website if --- the whole point of it is to find out if you're eligible for these subsidies --
MR. CARNEY: But as I understand it -- and I would refer you to CMS for more details -- they have a time by which that needs to be built and they're in the process of that build.
Q They still think they're going to make it there?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to them. Again, he --
Q You guys haven't gotten this assured then.
MR. CARNEY: I'm not saying that. I'm just saying I haven't asked that question -- since the man testified in public today, I think I would refer you to his public testimony.
Q Let me just put three pieces of information together, this --
MR. CARNEY: Are they related? (Laughter.)
Q Yes, they're very much related, which you'll see in a moment. Chao's testimony today that you had this problem with this back-end part of the site needs to be finished. Jessica Sanford's story, which was -- she was well-intentioned, the White House was probably well-intentioned, but there was a bug in the system, she got bad data. And in the Post this morning -- I'm not going to ask you about the other data about the President's credibility -- but there's 71 percent of that poll say -- so that’s Republicans and Democrats and independents -- that the enrollment deadline should be extended just because these problems have proved, at least to the public’s satisfaction, and because these other pieces of data suggest this isn’t going to be ready and doable on the timeline originally envisioned.
Isn’t pressure -- not just practical pressure, but now political pressure -- going to build on this White House to give serious consideration to extending the enrollment deadline so people can actually avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act as originally envisioned, because the original timeline is now simply not workable?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re working under a timeline where we expect improvements to the website to have been put in place that will allow it to function effectively for the vast majority of users by the end of this month, by December 1st. And in the meantime, as has been reported, people are enrolling. And the improvements -- this is not a jump up at the end of the month, this is a steady rise in improvements. Those improvements have led to a more effective website and to improved enrollment, as we sort of roughly understand. Obviously we’ll have data to release monthly when it’s available.
But our focus is on fixing the website and getting it working, making sure that Americans are able to enroll either online or in person or through call centers, so that those who want to buy insurance and have it kick in on January 1st are able to do that. We are being very transparent about where we are in this process, about all the problems that we’ve had, about the software and hardware fixes that are being made, about the fact that there are elements of it that are still being built --
Q And isn’t it possible that all these efforts may fall short and you may need to reconsider this issue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, you’re asking me a hypothetical. What I’m saying is where we are today --
Q It’s not exactly a hypothetical because the problems that you’re dealing with are real, and we’re trying to measure them and you’re trying to deal with them. That’s not a hypothetical.
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, but we’re on track, we believe, to hit our mark of making the website functionality such that the vast majority of users will be able to navigate it successfully. And there will obviously be those users who might still have problems with it that are related to technology. They might still have -- they might choose not to go through that website because of the complexity of their situation or a general predisposition against making big purchases online. I mean, these are always things that you have to take into consideration, and that’s why there are other methods by which people can enroll and shop.
So we’re going to -- we provide these regular briefings at CMS. I get out here and answer questions about this, and others do. And we’ll keep you apprised of our progress. We believe it’s very important that the promise of the Affordable Care Act be fulfilled, and the promise is that millions of Americans will be able to --
Q Can’t it be fulfilled even if you extend the enrollment?
MR. CARNEY: Well, but what I’m saying is we’re focused on what we’re doing to improve the website and what we’re doing to get as many people enrolled as possible who want to be enrolled. And I have no new information to provide about the current deadlines except that we’re working to meet them.
Q Okay. Senator Corker told us outside after the meeting that the senators came away with a much greater sense of the details of the negotiations. Is it fair to say the President and the Secretary of State conveyed more to them about what’s on the actual negotiating table than has been discussed publicly?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s fair to say that. It’s a two-hour meeting. So, yes.
Q Okay. And was there a general meeting of the minds on the timeline? It’s clear now that there’s not going to be an amendment to the defense authorization bill on this topic until after the Senate comes back from the Thanksgiving recess. Clearly this is a very important week for the negotiations. So do you feel you have reached a sort of meeting of the minds that this is not going to complicate conversations with the Iranians and the P5-plus-1?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I defer to the Senate and to the senators who were in the meeting. I did note the public comments of Senator Corker with regards to these specific issues, and we certainly appreciate that. It reflects the President’s view that it would not be productive for Congress to act on new sanctions now because they should retain that potential for later, if necessary, to positively affect Iranian behavior.
Right now, we are where we are with the upcoming sessions in Geneva because of the sanctions regime that’s been in place and the potential that Iran has decided -- or rather changed its calculus about how it views its nuclear program.
Q One thing that will come up before the Senate in the coming days on the defense authorization bill is the question of rewriting the military rules on sexual assault. The President has spoken about this forcefully on a couple of occasions. And there was a lengthy statement of administration policy last night, and I may have missed it -- I tried to read it carefully
-- but where does the administration come down on the McCaskill versus Gillibrand amendment on how to deal with the accountability of commanders or a completely independent review that takes commanders out of the decision-making process on military sexual assault allegations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, thank you for the question. The statement of administration policy, as I understand it, was on the underlying bill, not on any potential amendments.
Q I figured as much. I just wanted to clarify.
MR. CARNEY: So on the issue of sexual assault in the military, the President does feel very strongly, as you know, having heard him discuss this. And we have been working with members of Congress on this issue. It is something, as I said, the President is very concerned about, and that’s why he has directed Secretary Hagel and the rest of his team to address this issue aggressively to make sure that victims are being helped and that perpetrators are being held accountable.
But we’re continuing to work with members of Congress. Beyond the statement of administration policy on the underlying bill, I don’t have any more insight on potential amendments at this time. What I can tell you is that we consider this to be a very important issue.
Q So there is no position one way or the other on which is better, McCaskill or Gillibrand?
MR. CARNEY: Beyond what we put out on the underlying defense authorization bill, I can only tell you that we’re working with members of Congress who are very concerned about this issue, as the President is.
Q Now, you may not know the answer to this, but I want to bring this up to you. As you -- I know you know this, but the President is one of 61 famous politicians, historians and others who have cited the Gettysburg Address for Ken Burns.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Now, there are two copies of that Gettysburg Address. One is called the Nicolay and one is called the Hay, and both are in the Library of Congress. Neither of them include “under God,” which is the way the President read it. Many others included a reference to God in the Gettysburg Address. I’m just curious if you know why the President read it that way?
MR. CARNEY: I think he read the version of the address that Ken Burns provided. I think Ken Burns is a noted Civil War scholar.
Q Ken Burns provided it to him?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, that’s my understanding -- the Nicolay version, yes.
Q Just wanted to clarify.
Q Jay, would the President like to see a technical-fix bill to the health law pass Congress? And does last week’s executive action suggest that the White House believes it’s politically impossible right now?
MR. CARNEY: A technical fix on the issue of cancellations?
Q Or all kinds of -- the language -- all sorts of health experts say --
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is -- that’s a very good question. The President has long said that he would welcome efforts by lawmakers of both parties that are sincere that are aimed at making improvements to the Affordable Care Act so that it more effectively delivers on its promise. And that’s how we view potential legislative action on this issue and on any issue.
What has certainly been the case thus far is that Republicans have, regrettably, even when, at least superficially, devising legislation to make improvements to the Affordable Care Act, have in conferences and even in public acknowledged that what they’re really engaging in is, as I think John Boehner said, targeted strikes aimed at torpedoing the whole Affordable Care Act.
And I mean, that’s -- we just have a difference of opinion about the underlying necessity of reforming our health care system. And we had a long campaign about this. We’ve had a Supreme Court decision about this. And what remains true today is that those who want to do away with the Affordable Care Act are offering no alternative in its place. And in fact, any suggestion that we’ve seen in the House that Republicans should put forward a real reform alternative have been savaged by the most vocal and arguably powerful element of the Republican Party.
So what that leaves us with is trying to find those who want to engage in good-faith efforts to make legislative fixes that improve the bill. And perhaps there will be some in the Republican Party, as there are, of course, in the Democratic Party. In the meantime, we do what we can administratively to make the fixes that will help improve it, and we continue to have the broader debate about, even with a faulty website and with some of the other problems with enrollment, do we continue to implement the Affordable Care Act so that millions of Americans have access to quality health insurance, many for the first time, or do we go back to the past where insurance companies dictated whether or not if you had a sister -- twin sister with exactly the same health, she was going to have to pay double for the same policy.
We have very strong opinions about that debate, and have been engaged in it for years now, and it seems like we’ll be engaged in it now for some time into the future.
Q Jay, back to Iran.
MR. CARNEY: And then April.
Q The U.S. has always said through the course of these Iran negotiations that it shares intel with the Israelis, consults with the Israelis, sends officials to Jerusalem to brief the Israelis on the results of whatever round of negotiations has just finished. And yet here we are at a moment where there’s this chasm of misunderstanding and disagreement between the U.S. and Israel on the wisdom of doing an interim deal, and Israeli officials have gone so far as to say they feel misled by the United States about the nature of this deal or possible deal.
I’m wondering what, in your view, accounts for this gulf between two close allies. Is the President worried that this has eroded trust in a way that may be hard to put together again? And then lastly, is there a concern that the ill will over this, the misunderstanding over this could bleed over into some of the President’s other priorities in the region, notably a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
MR. CARNEY: On our consultations with Israel over Iran, they are constant and broad. And in all cases, they start from the firm understanding by both sides that we share same goal -- to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
And we have provided our Israeli counterparts significant information about the potential first-phase agreement, as well as what that would mean in terms of halting progress of the Iranian program and rolling back aspects of it, while the P5-plus-1 and Iran pursue the potential for a comprehensive agreement. And we've made clear our view that it is in our and Israel's and all of our partners' best interest to reach a preliminary agreement that halts that progress and reverses aspects of it, rather than reach no preliminary agreement and continue to engage in potential comprehensive deal negotiations while Iran has no restrictions on its ability to pursue progress in its program. This is, in our view, very significant.
Now, the relief that’s envisioned as part of this first phase is limited, it is reversible, and it leaves in place the comprehensive sanctions regime. In fact, sanctions continue to take effect and continue to be implemented throughout that period so that Iran continues to suffer from the sanctions regime up and until it can verifiably demonstrate to the international community that it is meeting its obligations and forsaking its nuclear weapons ambitions.
So we are having those discussions with all of our partners, including Israel. What is also a bedrock principle to every conversation we have is our unshakeable commitment to Israel's security -- a commitment that has been demonstrated by this President in concrete terms throughout his five years in office, a fact that has been recognized by the Prime Minister and other top Israeli officials over these years.
So having said all of that, it is absolutely understandable that Israel is skeptical of Iranian behavior. We all are, and have been. After all, that’s why we're here. That’s why we're in the situation that we're in. That’s why the world has come together and punished Iran through the comprehensive sanctions regime. But as I said earlier, it is the President's view that the sanctions weren't put in place for the sake merely of sanctioning of Iran. They were put in place to see if we could change Iranian behavior, if we could change Tehran's calculus.
And we are now at a point where it is possible that the effect of the sanctions has been to bring about a change in behavior. We need to test it and see if that’s possible, because it is incumbent upon the President of the United States to explore the possibility of resolving this issue diplomatically before trying to resolve it through other means, including military force.
Q In this case, it appears the Israelis are more skeptical of our behavior than the Iranians behavior. They're deeply skeptical of --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly doubt that.
Q They're deeply skeptical, though, of the assumptions we're making in pursuing this deal and the likely outcome of that deal. And I guess my question is, how can there be such a gulf of misunderstanding after all the consultation that you described?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that we're in regular consultation with the Israelis and others. The P5-plus-1 are unified. The deal envisioned, if it is reached, will I think upon inspection demonstrate that there is a transparency involved that will ensure Iranian compliance; that halting progress on its program is very much a desirable outcome to a first stage of this agreement; that rolling back key aspects of it is very much a desirable outcome because it allows for essentially a pause in that progress while we explore the possibility of a comprehensive agreement with Tehran, with the P5-plus-1.
So we're consulting with Congress. We're consulting with our allies and partners. We will see if an agreement can be reached in this first phase. And then, obviously we will, if it is reached, be able to judge the details of it -- we, I mean collectively -- and then its implementation, including whether or not the relief that might be provided is, in fact, as we've said it is, limited and reversible, and whether or not Iran is complying, and that we have mechanisms in place to make sure that we can verify their compliance.
Q And one last thing -- spillover effect on the Israeli-Palestinian process? Any concern about that?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, these are both extremely challenging issues and have been for years, and we continue to work very closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians on an effort to make progress in what is a difficult, difficult problem. If these challenges were easily resolved, I'm sure they would have been resolved before we got here. And this President, this Secretary of State, the whole team is committed to pursuing U.S. national security interests, including our unshakeable commitment to Israel's defense in both cases.
Q Jay, going back to the ACA website, Congressman Elijah Cummings, a friend of the President, said that the reason why the President's poll numbers are down is simply because of a website. He said, once that comes up, everything will be fine. But he said, in the meantime, what was really telling was the fact that when the President was standing here at the last press conference saying that his staff did not tell him -- and what do you say to Congressman Cummings, who says that there needs to be a shakeup within this administration because of such a major failure of the website?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there's no question the website has performed miserably upon launch, and that is why the President was none too happy about it and has made sure that teams are in place making improvements every day. That's not quite what the President said. He said that he was not told of any information that would suggest the website was going to perform as badly as it did. I think that is evident by all of the actions we took publicly in the run-up to the website, the website launch.
When it comes to personnel matters, the President is focused on making sure everyone involved in this effort is working 24/7 to fix the problems, and fixing the problems not so that we can have a better functioning website as if that were the only goal -- the goal is to fix the problems so that we can make affordable, quality health insurance available to as many Americans as possible. So that's what we're focused on. I got this question yesterday. I mean, I think that the time for solving problems is now, and that's what we're focused on doing.
Q But this is a friend of the President's, a major voice on Capitol Hill in his own party. Are you listening?
MR. CARNEY: We always listen to Chairman Cummings. And I'm not aware of the specific comments that you're referring to, but I would simply say that he and others in Congress who are strong supporters of Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act share in the President's frustration and want as much as he does that the problems are fixed so that the promise of the Affordable Care Act can be realized.
Q And on another subject really fast, another subject -- the President was very vocal with the Trayvon Martin death. George Zimmerman has been given -- his bond has been set at $9,000. He has to wear an electronic monitoring device. He can't leave the state for a domestic violence situation. Was the President aware of this yesterday, and what has he said about this, since he was so vocal before? And granted, each situation has nothing to do with each other, but this person has a pattern, it seems, of trouble with guns.
MR. CARNEY: I haven't had a discussion with him about that. And in terms of that specific incident, it's obviously one being handled by local law enforcement.
Q Thanks. Secretary Sebelius -- is she still taking part in the daily briefings at the White House on the health care fix?
MR. CARNEY: Secretary Sebelius is very much a part of the team. I'm not sure that there are daily briefings involving the Secretary or have ever been daily briefings here at the White House. The Secretary is very much involved in the effort, though.
Q All right. Is she overseeing the fixes that are going on? Or is Zients sort of --
MR. CARNEY: She's the Secretary of HHS, of which CMS is a component. Jeff Zients was brought in to manage that effort, but he is doing so for CMS, and therefore for HHS.
Q She's still overseeing, then?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely.
John, and then I've got to go.
Q No sooner than they got back from the White House, some senators released a statement, actually a letter to Secretary Kerry, on Iran, and they basically said sanctions on Iran should not be rolled back unless the Iranian nuclear program is rolled back rather than being frozen. Just wondering, is it viable to make a deal with the Iranians when Senators Menendez, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Schumer -- another ally of the President's -- are saying that it's not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I haven't seen, since I've been here, the statement that you mentioned. But the fact is the first phase does envision rolling back as well as halting progress, halting progress and rolling back key aspects. And we've talked about some of those aspects, including its enrichment capacity, its stockpile of enriched uranium, its ability to install advanced centrifuges, and the plutonium track at the Iraq reactor. So these are areas that are very concrete and significant. So when we talk about halting progress and rolling back, this would, if it comes to pass, be a very serious substantive agreement.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, the proposal we're discussing here does not roll back sanctions. It provides -- in fact, it explicitly leaves in place the sanctions regime and the structure that has upheld the sanctions regime. It provides limited temporary relief on a scale that is significantly lower than has been reported, and only in return for verifiable compliance with the obligations that Iran would make, should an agreement be reached.
So again, this is an administration that led the way to building the most effective, comprehensive and crippling set of sanctions in history precisely to test whether or not Iranian behavior could be changed through those sanctions. We are now at the point of seeing whether or not that can happen.
Our only interest in this is in resolving the fundamental question that is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. It is far preferable to do that peacefully than to do it through other means, including military force. But at no point in this process has the President ever said he removes any option from the table. But it is his obligation as President and Commander-in-Chief to at least test whether or not there is a resolution available here that is verifiable and transparent, and that could reassure the international community -- the United States, Israel, and all of our allies and partners, and every country in the region -- that Iran has forsaken its nuclear weapons ambition. And that’s what we’re testing.
If Iran does not agree, if Iran does not comply, we will retain the capacity to reverse the limited relief that a first phase would provide and to increase sanctions. That is explicitly what we have been discussing with Congress -- that they should retain for maximum leverage the possibility of leveling new sanctions should they be necessary to respond to Iranian behavior. Right now, we’re in the process of testing whether or not the opening that Iran has indicated is real.
Q So no concern about the viability to deal with Iran if senators are not on board with --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think we had a very good discussion here at the White House. We heard a diversity of views. The Senate has, at least based on comments that were cited to me, indicated what it might do at least in the near term in terms of this issue. And in the meantime, we have negotiators headed to Geneva where they will test whether or not Tehran is serious, whether or not there is a potential here for resolving this peacefully. And if we are able to reach a first phase agreement then we can evaluate with some level of specificity what relief is provided, whether, as we said it would be, it is temporary and limited and reversible, and what concrete, verifiable actions Iran would have to take in order to meet its commitments.
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