Press Briefing by the Press Secretary, 12/17/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here. Thanks for coming to your daily briefing. Before I take your questions I have something to say about health care for seniors.
Q There’s a pattern here.
MR. CARNEY: You're catching on.
Today we are highlighting that, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of seniors and people with disabilities have access to more affordable prescription medications and free preventive services through Medicare.
According to new data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services today, more than 25.4 million people covered by original Medicare received at least one preventive service at no cost to them during the first 11 months of 2013 because of the Affordable Care Act. The health care law is also closing the gap in prescription drug coverage known as the doughnut hole where people with Medicare have had to pay the entire cost of prescription drugs out of pocket. As a result, since the health care law was enacted, more than 7 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved a total of nearly $9 billion on prescription drugs. That's an average savings of about $1,200 per person.
If opponents of reform had their way and repealed the law, millions of seniors would not have access to free preventive services under Medicare and would once again have to shoulder the burden of higher out-of-pocket costs for their prescription drugs. Taken together, this is yet another way that the Republican repeal plan would raise costs for millions of Americans.
I also wanted to mention that tomorrow, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will meet with a group of moms in the Oval Office to discuss how health care could help their families. Moms are a key part of our ongoing outreach and enrollment efforts and have an important role to play in helping their adult children, family members and peers to sign up for coverage.
And that's tomorrow. With that, I will take your questions. I hope you noted the graphic also -- part of a pattern here.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple questions on the NSA decision yesterday -- ruling. Does the ruling in any way affect the reviews of NSA practices that are taking place at the President’s direction? In other words, has he asked for some of the concerns raised in this ruling to be considered as part of this review?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, the ruling just came down, as you know, yesterday, and for reaction to a matter like that I would refer you to the Department of Justice. I can tell you that DOJ has said: “We have seen the opinion and are studying it. We believe the program is constitutional, as previous judges have found. And we have no further comment at this time.” So that's obviously part of a legal review that they are undertaking.
With regard to the review that the President asked for, the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications, on Friday submitted their report to the President. The President is grateful to the group -- Richard Clarke, Michael Morell, Geoffrey Stone, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire -- for devoting themselves to this effort over the past several months and providing thoughtful input for the administration to consider as we conclude the ongoing interagency review of signals intelligence collection, being led by the White House. The review group’s report draws on the group members’ considerable expertise in intelligence, counterterrorism, civil liberties, law and privacy matters, and on their consultations with the U.S. government privacy and civil liberties advocates in the private sector.
As I mentioned yesterday, over the next several weeks, we will be reviewing the review group's report and its more than 40 recommendations as we consider the path forward, including sorting through which recommendations we will implement, which might require further study and which we will choose not to pursue. We expect the overall internal review to be completed in January, and the President will deliver remarks. And as I mentioned yesterday, the review group's report we expect to be released publicly.
Q I'm sorry, released what?
MR. CARNEY: Publicly.
Q Next month?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have timing on that, but we do expect it to be released publicly.
Q Was the review or the ruling a subject of a discussion with the tech leaders who were here today talking to the President?
MR. CARNEY: We will have a fuller readout for you. That meeting was ongoing as I came down here. As I mentioned yesterday, or we mentioned yesterday, the President and Vice President were going to meet and are now currently meeting with executives from leading tech companies to discuss progress made in addressing performance and capacity issues with healthcare.gov, and how government can better deliver IT to maximize innovation efficiency and customer service.
In the meeting, the President also announced that Kurt DelBene, who most recently served as president of the Microsoft Office Division, will succeed Jeff Zients as senior advisor to Secretary Sebelius in leading the charge -- or our charge with healthcare.gov and the health insurance marketplace. He starts tomorrow.
The group discussed the challenges around federal IT procurement. The meeting also is addressing national security and economic impacts of the unauthorized intelligence disclosures. So that goes to the subject of your question, so it's certainly under discussion. I am not aware that the court ruling was part of that, but again, I don’t have a full readout for you as the meeting is ongoing.
Q The Government Accountability Project, which aims to protect whistleblowers, argued today that this strengthens -- this decision ruling strengthens Snowden's claim for whistleblower status. I wonder if you -- the White House has any reaction.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I have no comment on the ruling beyond what I cited from DOJ. I certainly would repeat what I said yesterday that it remains our view that Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and that he faces felony charges here in the United States. And he should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process and protections.
Q One last question on Ukraine. Putin today extended an offer to provide $50 billion in bond asset purchases as well as lower energy costs to Ukraine. Does the White House see that as interfering in the decision-making in Kiev?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that we've seen the reports of that agreement and we're reviewing -- rather, we're awaiting details and will review them when we see them. But any agreements concluded between Kiev and Moscow will not address the concerns of those who have gathered in public protest across Ukraine.
As we've said in the past, we urge the Ukrainian government to listen to its people and to find a way to restore a path to the peaceful, just, democratic and economically prosperous European future to which Ukrainian citizens aspire. And we urge the Ukrainian government to enter into immediate dialogue with the opposition and all other stakeholders who have expressed their desire for a better Ukraine through public demonstrations.
Again, we will look at the details as they become available of these agreements that have been reported, but they don’t address the concerns that peaceful demonstrators have expressed in Ukraine.
Q Jay, can you tell us how Kurt DelBene was chosen for this job?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, it’s a position at the Department of Health and Human Services. As Jeff Zients has done, his successor, Mr. DelBene, will be serving as a senior adviser to Secretary Sebelius and so the Secretary obviously makes the choice. The search for a successor involved, in addition to the Secretary and members of her team, certainly Mr. Zients and the Chief of Staff here, Denis McDonough. But I think for any of you who know Mr. DelBene’s background, you will know that he is uniquely suited to this task, has vast experience with running a complex piece of technology. And the President and the Secretary are very grateful that he’s agreed to take on this position.
Q And so he’ll be on the government payroll? Can you tell us what he’ll get paid?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know the status of what he’ll get paid or how much. I think we said in the past that Mr. Zients was essentially volunteering -- I mean, taking, I think, a small, nominal salary. I don’t know the case with Mr. DelBene, but we’ll get that to you.
Q And can you give any more details about what Gene will do in his last month, in January? Will he be involved in the budget still, since he’s staying a little longer? State of the Union?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. I will confirm that Gene Sperling will be remaining in his position through at least January, into early February, to participate, as he has so effectively over these many years, in the process around the State of the Union address that the President will deliver at the end of January, and to continue work on some of the issues that he’s been focused on. So he’ll also obviously assist in the transition to Jeff Zients, who will take over that position we expect in early February.
Q And then the last question, following up on Snowden. He apparently has sought asylum in Brazil. Is the United States in touch with Brazil about that request?
MR. CARNEY: Our view, as I said earlier, has not changed. We believe that Mr. Snowden ought to be returned to -- ought to return to the United States, where he faces charges for leaking classified information and where he will receive full due process and protections.
The broader issues with regards to Brazil and other nations and the disclosures are ones that we discuss directly with those nations through diplomatic channels and with our Brazilian counterparts, and that will continue. But when it comes to Mr. Snowden, our views certainly haven’t changed.
Q Jay, real quick -- the NSA review panel’s report -- when did you say that would be released to the public?
MR. CARNEY: I said publicly. I don’t have a date for you. As I mentioned yesterday, we expect that it will be released.
Q Didn’t you say January? Just to clarify, you said the review would be completed in January?
MR. CARNEY: What I know is that our internal review -- the word is being applied to several different things -- but the overall review that’s happening here will be completed in January. The report -- the review group’s report, which has been completed and submitted to the President, will be released publicly. I just don’t have a date for when that will happen. I certainly expect it will be no later than January.
Q Could it be sooner?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, no later than January certainly suggests it could be sooner. I just don’t have a date, Bill. Sorry.
Q If I could follow.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q What is reason for not releasing it now? If you’re going to release the full report?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s rather extraordinary that -- I mean, part of the commitment to transparency here is that this will be released. I just don’t have a date for you.
Q Wouldn’t transparency argue for releasing it now so we know what the panel has recommended?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t have a date for you, Bill. And when it’s released, which I expect will be between now and the conclusion of the review here at the White House, you’ll be able to examine its contents and make assessments accordingly. But it is my understanding that it will be released publicly.
Q How are you, sir?
MR. CARNEY: Good.
Q I wanted to talk to you a little bit about polls. I know that we often talk about them and you say, look, we’re not going to govern based on that. But you said yesterday the President is hopeful of still getting immigration reform done. I assume he has a lot on his agenda for 2014. When you look at the Washington Post/ABC News poll today, and they say that he ends his fifth year in office with one of the worst approval ratings -- I think only Nixon had been worse at the end of his fifth year in office; George W. Bush was higher and Bill Clinton was higher, both parties -- how can you reasonably expect to get any of these big issues like immigration reform done next year?
MR. CARNEY: Because they’re the right thing to do. Because they’re the kinds of issues that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. Because they go directly to his promise to have as his top priority economic growth and job creation, and creating a more secure and expanding middle class. Because it’s in the interests of Democrats and Republicans to pass comprehensive immigration reform. That's what law enforcement groups say. That's what big business says. That's what small business says. That's what faith leaders say. That's what Democrats and Republicans in the Senate say. It’s what Republican political leaders outside of Congress say.
So we think that that kind of consensus demonstrates why it’s so important that we get this done for our economy, for the effect that it would have -- the positive effect it would have on increasing border security; for the effect it would have on creating fairness in the way that our laws are applied and fairness when it comes to employers and making sure that they all play by the same set of rules. So that's why.
I also think there’s no question that the American people are frustrated with Washington and with the seeming, if not inability, then minimal ability, to get the kinds of things done that will address their lives and help them economically, especially the middle class.
I think we have seen in recent days, including today, some glimmers of hope that there might be a willingness to cooperate in a bipartisan way that we haven’t seen recently in the past, especially out of the House of Representatives. So for that reason, I think, as we talked about yesterday, there’s at least the possibility of greater cooperation and progress on a range of issues, including immigration reform.
Q But you’ve been on both sides of this podium, and you understand that a President also needs to be able to move the public and then that can move the Congress. You’ve made those arguments on immigration reform, et cetera, before. Does he really still have the clout to move the public, to move the Congress on these big issues when his approval ratings continue to sink?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ed, again, you won’t hear an argument from me that everyone in Washington is taking a hit because of Washington’s performance of late. Now, in recent days and weeks, there has been I think some demonstrated improvement in Washington’s performance when it comes to the budget agreement and also when it comes to the fact that we’re seeing government -- Washington do some of the things that it’s supposed to do, Congress do some of the things that it is supposed to do, like confirm qualified nominees for executive branch positions and for the bench. So this is progress.
And all we can do here in Washington -- everyone in Congress and the administration -- is get to work on the issues that the American people care about, and hopefully when the American people see that Washington is doing just that, then they will see the resulting improvements in the economy and in their own personal lives that these initiatives are meant to address. So that’s all we can focus on. I would also simply say that this President has been focused on these issues since the day he took office amidst the worst economic collapse of our lifetimes and he will be focused every day until he leaves office.
Q A couple quick ones on health care. You mentioned the Microsoft executive, Mr. DelBene, coming in. You said he had vast experience running a complex operation. There are statements out from Bill Gates and all these other tech luminaries saying this person is terrific, he’s going to do a great job. Why in the world didn’t the White House come up and hire someone like this in the summer, in the spring, a year ago, to roll out healthcare.gov?
MR. CARNEY: I think your question goes to the absolute acknowledgement that we’ve made that healthcare.gov had a terrible start. And there’s no question --
Q Right, but why didn’t you go to the tech community and say, give us somebody who knows how to run a complex operation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s fair to say that, given the experience we’ve had and given the improvements that have been overseen by Jeff Zients, and the continued improvements we expect to see under Mr. DelBene, that we think that was the right decision to make. And obviously we would have much preferred a more successful launch, and if that could have been affected by having somebody in this position in the past, then absolutely we should have had somebody in that position in the past.
What I think you have seen me do and the President do and everyone involved in this effort do is acknowledge at the outset in response to questions of this nature that, yes, healthcare.gov got off to a terrible start, and that is our responsibility, that is on us. And that’s why we are so committed to making the improvements we’ve made, and why every time I get asked on the positive side, aren’t you pleased by the dramatic increases in enrollments, or by the --
Q The error rate has come down.
MR. CARNEY: -- the error rate coming down, the increased stability, the answer is, yes, but we have work to do. Yes, but we still have to deliver on the promise of the Affordable Care Act -- which wasn’t a promise to have a great website; it was a promise to make available to millions of Americans quality, affordable health insurance.
Q So no one is going to be held accountable for not hiring somebody who knows this stuff?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve addressed that question. And we’re about the business right now of making the improvements necessary so that this benefit that so many Americans clearly want is available to them. And the fact that we, in the first month-plus of this exercise, threw up so many obstacles in the way of Americans who wanted this benefit is our responsibility and we have acknowledged that and addressed it, and we continue to do so and we still have a lot of work to do.
Yes, ma’am. We talked yesterday. I said I’d call on you and I’m calling on you.
Q Thank you, Jay. Two questions on North Korea. How does the Obama administration see relations for two years under North Korean Kim Jong-un leadership or his regime?
MR. CARNEY: Kim Jong-un or --
Q Kim Jong-un. And the second question -- does the United States have any contingency plan -- for North Korea?
MR. CARNEY: I think the only way to address this is to point to what we've said in the past about North Korean behavior and their failure to live up to their international obligations; their failure to take steps that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations and to end the intense isolation that they are experiencing in the world -- an isolation that has, combined with the regime's decision to spend the resources it does have on military procurement rather than feeding its own people, has resulted in the impoverishment of the North Korean people.
So that's how we would evaluate circumstances in North Korea today. And then, when it comes to contingency plans, I don't have anything to report on that. But, obviously, we always, as any administration does, would look at a variety of contingencies.
Q Yesterday, when the White House -- when you all announced the meeting with the tech CEOs, you said in there that they were going to discuss, obviously, national security related to the revelations, and then the economic effects or impact of these revelations.
MR. CARNEY: I think this addresses some of the concerns that some of the tech companies have raised in the wake of the disclosures. So that was -- I think that was the reference.
Q So not economic impact to the U.S. economy overall, to their individual companies, if that makes sense?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we'll have a fuller readout. But my understanding is that was meant to respond to -- or to acknowledge that we'd be discussing some of the issues that tech companies and their CEOs have raised.
Q And is there any reason -- I should have asked earlier, but no one from AOL is in the meeting, and they were the only signatory to that letter that doesn't have a representative in there.
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to take the question in terms of the makeup of the meeting. As you I think saw, it's a pretty impressive group of individuals.
Jon. Then, Brianna.
Q Do you have any update at all for how successful the effort to sign people -- get people to enroll on healthcare.gov has been on getting young people? What's the status on that?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any data specifically broken down by age. I would refer you to CMS. I'm not sure what they have. There's no question that overall, between now and March 31st, there needs to be a good mix of individuals who enroll in the marketplaces. As I think we've talked about in general, it is common, as we've seen from past experience, for enrollment of any kind in these kinds of programs, including the private health insurance that most of you enroll in and have open enrollment periods for, to happen disproportionately towards the end and that young people are even more inclined to wait until the last minute to get their paperwork done or their online applications done. So having stated those facts, I don't have any specific information with regards to the age breakdown so far.
Q CMS won't give that information out either. I mean, do you not have it? You must have it.
MR. CARNEY: I don't have it, so I would refer you to CMS. I don't have that data.
Q And what efforts is the administration making to get young people to sign?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you've seen a broad-based effort to focus on the opportunities and options available to millions of Americans across the country, including young people.
I think that if you saw in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, there was an article -- we've often gotten questions about or statements from commentators about the fact that it would be proof that enrollment is working and the website is functioning for the vast majority of users when you saw outside groups, third-party groups, including insurance companies, invest in advertising to reach potential consumers. And I think there was an important article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about a number of insurance companies that are investing substantial sums to do just that. And I think that would indicate that they believe the opportunity to reach those potential consumers exists, and that those consumers will be able to enroll in their plans if they so choose.
So it's going to be -- it's a broad-based effort and it continues not just now but through March.
Q What do you make of some of these efforts by Obamacare supporters to reach out? I mean, some of them -- the upside-down keg stands and whatnot. I mean, is anybody going to buy health care because “Barack Obreezy” tells them to buy it because it's hot?
MR. CARNEY: I think that, having not designed advertising campaigns myself, I'm not an expert, but I think that people -- there are efforts underway to reach potential consumers where they live, if you will, and to get them to be aware of the options available to them and the wisdom of getting covered, of having health insurance. And I think that’s what all these efforts are about.
And we certainly believe that there has been -- I mean, one fact is, in spite of -- it was being noted that the effort, the advertising efforts and the like, had been pushed back because of the problems with healthcare.gov. I mean, one of the facts that I think often went unnoticed is that even despite that, we still have extraordinary levels of interest demonstrated by the number of visits to the website itself. And that continues. We continue to see I think something like half a million over the weekend of visitors to healthcare.gov. So the demand is there, and it's our responsibility to make sure that the system works so the demand can be met.
Q Thanks, Jay. We're nearing the end of the year here, looking to the next year. Can you just talk a little bit about what are the President's biggest priorities? What is he hoping to achieve in 2014?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. I will leave it to the President to be more specific, and he will be certainly at the State of the Union address. But his priority, which he made clear at a speech he recently gave here in Washington, is the economic health of the middle class and the prospects for future, stronger economic growth for the country and job creation for the country. And that has been his priority since he came to office, and will continue to be his priority going forward.
And within that context, he is concerned, as so many people are, by the growing inequality that we've seen and the effect that has on mobility, upward mobility for Americans across the country. This country is obviously known for the remarkable mobility that it has afforded generations in the past. And I think it's a sobering fact to learn that countries in Europe often, or in some cases, have more upward mobility for their citizens now. I think that illustrates why this is a problem that needs to be addressed. And you heard the President give a substantive lengthy speech about that just the other week, and he will certainly continue to address those issues.
Comprehensive immigration reform because it’s so important for a variety of reasons, including, first and foremost, it’s important for our economy, important for the middle class. And his Climate Action Plan, again, because it addresses our long-term energy needs and energy security needs, as well as the need to address climate change. These are priorities that the President has put forward and will continue to push into 2014 and beyond.
Q Then if I can ask you a question about the ACA. CMS last said that 10 percent of the 834s that were transmitted to insurance companies had errors in them. They're now saying that number is inaccurate, but they aren’t providing an accurate percentage. So I guess really the question is, is the White House confidant that what -- one, does the White House know what the percentage is? Does the White House have confidence that whatever that number is, whatever the percentage is, coupled with the ability to identify these errors and the outreach that's going along with it, that that's going to mean the number of people who are aiming to be signed for health insurance by January 1st, that that's going to be what we would see as minimal come January?
MR. CARNEY: As I said yesterday and previous days, there is no higher priority that CMS has and the administration has right now on ACA than making sure that those individuals who enrolled or believe they enrolled are taking the steps necessary and have the data to the insurer necessary that will allow them, if they sought insurance coverage on January 1st, to get it. And there are a variety of means by which that communication is happening.
When it comes to the backend issues, I can tell you that since the beginning of December, enrollments that did not generate the necessary transaction form, the 834 form, that goes to the insurance company has been close to zero. And what that means is that --
Q But I’m not talking -- I understand that. But that's not what I’m talking about. And this seems to be where we ask a question about -- we know that 834s are being transmitted. I’m talking about the ones that are being transmitted and have errors in them.
MR. CARNEY: Right. And I’m saying that -- because this is important. As an anecdotal example, we are confident that we have made major improvements to healthcare.gov, including on the backend issues, that have reduced that transmission problem to zero or near zero, and that have addressed the problems with errors.
I think an example of that is that insurers like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas are saying that they no longer need to follow up individually with enrollees to verify their information because the 834s are coming through cleaner, are coming through accurately.
Now, what I’ve said is that what CMS is doing is reaching out to individuals who enrolled, especially in the earlier period where there was a much higher percentage of problems with the backend issues and the 834 forms, to make sure that accurate information is being delivered to their insurers; to make sure that there is communication between the issuer and the enrollees so that the enrollee knows what he or she has to do in order to have coverage when they choose to have coverage if it’s January 1st or later.
So the point is that -- and we’ve been talking about this -- the work that’s being done on the issue of 834 forms and ones that had errors in them or transmission problems have to do with those closer to the launch date of October 1st. And as improvements were made, we saw fewer of those problems, and now we are at a situation where there are very few indeed.
Q And the White House then has a firm grasp on what, if any -- I mean, you assume there are going to be some -- are there going to be a small amount? A large amount? You’re confident the White House has a grasp on the size of the problems that will confront people who are trying to sign up for insurance by January 1st? And by that, we mean people who obviously think they’re insured or have gone through the process, and then, come January, find out maybe in a rather rude awakening that they aren’t.
MR. CARNEY: I think that the administration, CMS, and that includes the White House, has made this a priority in our dealing with --
Q But you feel like you have a sense of the size of whatever problem may come up in January?
MR. CARNEY: I believe the answer to that is, yes. I would point you to CMS because they’re doing the groundwork, the fieldwork, if you will, as well as those teams that are meeting daily with issuers to address the concerns that they’ve had with 834s.
And I think a sign of progress is the citation I made of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas. I think another sign of progress is what I mentioned to Jon earlier that is Well Point Inc. -- which has held off for weeks on a planned campaign as problems with the website made it impossible for many consumers to sign up -- says that it expects to spend up to $100 million by the end of the year on TV, social media, and print ads targeting -- I forgot about this, Jon -- targeting mostly young and healthy people -- $100 million. That’s a pretty significant investment by a single company. And I think they wouldn’t be making that investment if they didn’t believe that they would get some return on that investment, that they would be able to -- that they would attract consumers to their product and that those consumers would be able to purchase that product through the marketplace.
Q Do you feel that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas is representative of other insurance companies’ experiences?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that -- obviously, I don't want to say that every insurance company can be included in that. But it demonstrates what we are seeing, which is that in real time -- and we're seeing, obviously, a significant increase in the number -- in the amount of traffic and the number of enrollees -- there are significantly fewer problems with the backend and the 834 forms, and down or close to zero when it comes to the transmission of those forms.
Yes. Peter, and then Bill.
Q Jay, on Secretary Sebelius's blog announcement that Kurt DelBene would be coming on beginning tomorrow, she says that he has agreed -- or the agreement is that he will stay through the middle or the first part of next year. I just wanted to get a sense of how long the White House believes they will have someone in this role before it's satisfied all the needs. Is he the last guy to do this? Or will this exist in perpetuity as long as --
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn't presume to know, Peter. Obviously, this position was created not that many weeks ago when Jeff Zients filled it, and filled it working seven days a week and making significant progress in the effort to bring healthcare.gov up to the performance standards that the American people deserved. And it is because of the Secretary's view and the President's view that that role should be filled by someone of the kind of experience that Mr. DelBene brings to the effort, that it will be filled at least for as long as Kurt has agreed to serve in that role.
Q I guess the question is, is there a standard point at which you'll be satisfied that you've accomplished everything you need, that that role is no longer needed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I just -- in terms of that role, obviously, enrollments in healthcare.gov or through healthcare.gov will continue beyond March 31st and year after year after year. What I can't tell you now is whether we might make a judgment or the Secretary might make a judgment next spring, for example, or early summer, that that position should be filled again.
Q In regards to the tech meeting that took place or is still taking place, as it sounds like, right now with the President, couldn't the problem in many ways be solved by having the phone companies keep track of this data as the review board is apparently recommending?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can't speak to recommendations by the review board. As I said, I think the board will make available their report and their recommendation. And I also don't -- I think that that is an issue that has been put forward in public discussion so I'm aware of that as a proposition, but I don't have any comment on that as a recommendation at this time, because the President's review is ongoing.
Q And then, if you can give us a sense of -- some of the tech companies have been very delicate in the language they've used about exactly what rules are governing what they can and cannot communicate. So I guess I would pose simply, why shouldn't the tech companies be allowed to tell the public more about what they're being told to provide?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not -- in terms of what they --
Q What's at risk of them being more transparent about what they're being required to provide?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not sure what their obligations are, in terms of legal obligations. And I'd refer you to the Department of Justice for those issues, if that's what you're asking me.
Q I guess, what's at stake? If they were to say more, not the specifics of the --
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s the kind of question that I would have to point you to the Department of Justice or elsewhere to answer -- perhaps the NSA -- in terms of -- if it has to do with intelligence-gathering activities and potentially classified programs.
Q And finally, if I can, earlier today we learned that six more Americans died in Afghanistan during a Black Hawk, I believe it was, that crashed -- if the President's been notified, and if he has any comments specific to this most recent --
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to get information on by whom and when the President was notified. This is obviously, as is the case anytime we lose men and women in uniform, a tragedy and something that we mourn greatly. And it's a reminder of, even as we go about our lives here stateside, that we have so many of our fellow Americans serving in harm's way still in Afghanistan.
Q Do you know the cause?
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to -- I don’t know yet.
Q Do you know if it was caused by enemy action?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Defense Department. I don’t know.
Q One more question about the tech meeting. Did the letter that they penned last week prompt this meeting?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have the answer to that. I'll have to take the question. I think that it has been -- we have had, this administration in particular, ongoing interactions with major tech companies and major tech CEOs for the entirety of the administration. So whether this specific meeting was in response to that letter I can't say, but this is not the first time the President has sat down with tech CEOs.
Q Could you take that question, though, to see --
MR. CARNEY: I'm sure it may just be that the meeting, because the meeting has on its agenda other issues besides this, may have been something that was going to be scheduled anyway.
Q Was it still going on when you came out here?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q With regard to immigration, if the President is in the desired position of implementing an immigration law, what would the White House take as a learning experience from healthcare.gov and the rollout of health care? You've got -- 9 million is the estimate of people who would be applying for legalization through various means, different pathways. You've got an E-Verify system that requires businesses to interact with the administration. What have you learned from that that would help you implement immigration, and what assurances can you give the public that that would roll out better than health care?
MR. CARNEY: I got pretty much the same question yesterday, and I would say that these are two different kinds of things, very significantly different. The fundamental problems with the rollout of the marketplaces had to do with the technology associated with healthcare.gov, with a website that was trying to do something rather significant and unprecedented, and is doing it now much more effectively.
So I think I would note, before the analogies are made, that there are significant differences in implementations of these two pieces of legislation. I certainly hope that for the sake of the country and the economy and border security and innovation, that we have the opportunity to implement comprehensive immigration reform because the economy needs it and our security needs it.
Q I understand that you’re saying that they're not perfectly analogous, and certainly there are a lot of differences between the two, but are there lessons to be learned from the implementation of a major program that requires a lot of technology for the next one that has a lot of technology?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I haven’t looked at the technological aspects of implementing comprehensive immigration reform. A big piece of it is border security, and I think that this administration has demonstrated its commitment to and success in improving our border security. And a piece of it has to do with improving our legal immigration process so that those who come and study in our universities can -- and want to start businesses here -- can stay here and start businesses in the United States and hire American workers to do that when they do that. So these are things that build on what we’ve already demonstrated a capacity to do.
So I guess I -- I’m not suggesting there wouldn’t be lessons learned. I’m saying that because I haven’t looked at the specific requirements of implementing immigration reform I wouldn’t be the person best able to tell you what specific lessons might be learned from the problems at healthcare.gov versus the problems associated with bringing 11 million undocumented people out of the shadows out and into a system where they get to the back of the line and move through a process like the one envisioned through comprehensive immigration reform.
Q A couple questions about the CEO meeting. It appeared it was going on at least twice as long as it was scheduled for. Even when you came out, did you have any indication in what direction that meeting was going?
MR. CARNEY: I did and that's what I provided to you, that I know that they spoke about -- I not just anticipated, but know that they had already discussed healthcare.gov issues. They spoke about procurement issues related to federal IT, and they spoke about issues related to disclosures, as I noted in my brief readout of a meeting that was still going on.
Q And by meeting with CEOs on the NSA --
MR. CARNEY: They also -- and of course, the President announced, and he’s in the room, the appointment of Kurt DelBene to succeed Jeff Zients.
Q By meeting with the CEOs on the NSA today, what message is he trying to send to businesses and the American people?
MR. CARNEY: As I think we’ve said in the past in addressing national security and economic impacts related to unauthorized intelligence disclosure, the President was hoping to hear directly from the CEOs of these companies about these issues and their concerns, and also, obviously, looking for the opportunity to explain both how these programs are viewed by him and the fact that he is engaging in the kind of comprehensive review of our signal intelligence-gathering that has been undertaken now for the past several weeks and months, and which will conclude in January, looking at, as I’ve said in the past, what we do through essentially two prisms -- one, the absolute value that the NSA and other agencies in our intelligence community provide in keeping the American people, the United States, and our allies safe; and doing so in a way that is legal and constitutional.
He also has made clear that because of the remarkable advancements in technology that the United States has both led the way in and been able to take advantage of, as have other countries, we need to look at our activities through the lens of making sure that we’re doing what we can and should, but not just -- or what we should to keep ourselves safe, but not just what we can because we have the technological capacity to do it. And I think that is the sort of framework around which the President has been approaching this review.
Q Is he concerned that the Snowden revelations have hurt his reputation for trustworthiness and transparency?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the disclosures have been problematic in far more significant ways than how they affect people’s view of him. They’ve been problematic because they are leaks of classified information, and that is why Mr. Snowden has had charges brought against him. And others can address the impacts of those kinds of disclosures on our activities and our safety and security. I think those are the issues that concern the President.
Q There are indications that he does have some problems with regard to his reputation. What’s the President doing to rebuild that --
MR. CARNEY: The President is focused every day on what he has committed himself to do, which is to work on behalf of the American people to create an economy -- or help foster an economy that is growing from the middle out instead of the top down; that is making more secure and expanding the middle class; is creating ladders of opportunity for those who aspire to membership in the middle class; that is bringing jobs back home to the United States so that we can have the kind of industries and businesses that create good jobs that sustain secure middle-class lives. That’s his focus.
Also his focus is the safety and security of the American people, and he is fiercely committed to that. But as you’ve heard him say in regards to the issues around these disclosures, he has been very candid and frank about the need to review our activities in the way that I described, and he has undertaken this in a very deliberate way. That review -- the overall review -- there’s a lot of different reviews with the review, but the overall review will be completed in January.
Q What about with foreign leaders? What’s he doing to repair that relationship, rebuild that link?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. I’ve gotten this question a lot with regard to countries that have expressed concerns about the disclosures, and we deal directly, counterpart to counterpart, leader to leader, as well as minister to minister, on these issues and through the normal diplomatic channels. And we are doing that with leaders in countries that have been a part of the disclosures as a matter of regular order.
Voice of America.
Q Thank you. Jay, on South Sudan, how has the President been keeping apprised of events there? We have a curfew in effect. There are fresh reports of new battles there in South Sudan. And this was an issue that he’s mentioned several times, including at the United Nations. Does he have --
MR. CARNEY: Well, he gets briefed on developments there. And as you I think are noting in your question, circumstances there have gotten worse and we remain deeply concerned about developments in South Sudan. We are monitoring the situation closely and continue to call on all parties to resolve their differences peacefully and democratically. We want to see an end to the violence and for South Sudan to get back to working toward realizing the vision it articulated at its independence of forging an inclusive, democratic state at peace internally and with its neighbors. Recent violence moves South Sudan further from, not closer to, that goal. But if South Sudan chooses peace and democracy, we are confident that it can get back on track.
So the President gets briefed on it. We’re very concerned about the developments we’ve seen. Our embassy, I think has been reported elsewhere, is currently closed and we are moving to an ordered departure because of the uptick in violence. And we call on the government to open critical points of entry and egress, including at the airport.
Q Any call to Salva Kiir?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any presidential calls to read out. I’m sure, if you speak with State, there are communications government to government.
Q Thank you very much. Did the President ask Secretary Sebelius to initiate the Inspector General’s review inside the Department of HHS? And because it’s an in-house review, is that good enough? And does it indicate Secretary Sebelius’s job is secure?
MR. CARNEY: I think Secretary Sebelius -- or the department has put out information about that review that I believe she initiated, and I’ve answered questions about this in the past. The President has confidence in Secretary Sebelius, and he knows that she, like everyone on her team, is focused on implementing the Affordable Care Act, making improvements to healthcare.gov, and ensuring that we deliver on the promise to the American people that they would have access to quality, affordable health insurance through the marketplaces.
Q The President said that his first priority was to get the website up and working and people enrolled, but that it would be time to find out what happened. Does the President think it’s the right path to investigate that within the department by the Inspector General as opposed to some other kind of investigation?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I think there’s plenty of oversight happening on Capitol Hill, and we agree with -- or rather cooperate with all legitimate oversight into this matter and others, and we’re doing that now. I certainly don’t think there’s any disagreement with the actions that Secretary Sebelius has taken. They are entirely appropriate.
However, we’re focused on implementing the Affordable Care Act, making sure that those millions of Americans who have demonstrated, despite the obstacles that have been put in front of them, their intense interest in enrolling in the marketplaces and purchasing health insurance through the marketplaces are able to do so in a timely fashion. That’s been our focus and that’s what people have been working on 24/7.
Q And the President said he wants to know what went wrong. Is it --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any update, Ann, on what he said about that or --
Q He’s satisfied with what she’s doing now?
MR. CARNEY: He has confidence in Secretary Sebelius, believes that what she’s doing is appropriate. And again, he wants his team principally focused on delivering on the promise of the Affordable Care Act because so many millions of Americans continue to demonstrate their interest in this, their desire for it, as measured by the substantial traffic at healthcare.gov and as measured elsewhere and as we’ve seen, as I cited earlier, the efforts that are beginning to take place from outside groups, from insurance companies and others, in this effort to make sure that those Americans who have these options available to them are aware of those options and take advantage of them if they so desire.
Q Jay, are the White House or HHS offering any kind of help to states that are having problems with their websites, their health care websites?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not specifically aware of what that communication is. I’m sure there is some, but I think HHS or CMS could give a more detailed answer. It depends -- I mean, you would have to ask them. I think the answer is probably, yes, but you would have to ask them specifically which state and which issue.
Q -- there’s no expectation that anything could be delayed, any kind of timelines will be extended or delayed because things are now fixed or in the process of being fixed?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think that what we’ve said is that we are working to do everything we can to make, as I was just saying, these options available to Americans who want them. And we have taken a number of steps to make this process easier for those Americans who have either had trouble because of the healthcare.gov website or because of the cancellations of existing policies. And so we’re continuing to address and make the adjustments necessary to make this transition as smooth as possible -- again, with the goal being providing access to the quality, affordable health insurance that so many millions of Americans so clearly desire.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: All right. Alexis, last one.
Q Jay, a couple quick follow-ups. On the signal surveillance review, some months back you made clear that the administration and President Obama had already made some modifications, interim modifications, and you might remember what those were related to. But to what extent will the President be specific with the international audience and the American people when he does finish the review and get to talk about all of the changes put together that he’s accepted?
MR. CARNEY: I think you can expect the President will speak to this issue, will make remarks about it, outlining the outcomes of the review that has been conducted -- and that will take place in January, I expect. But I think he does desire to be as specific and detailed as he can be given the issues here. I think that’s reflected in the fact that the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies will be releasing its report publicly. So the President’s comments and remarks about the steps that he’ll be taking or has taken I think will reflect that same desire for providing as much information about it as possible.
Q Two other quick questions. Both on Friday and today, you have described the President’s legislative agenda as including his Climate Action Plan. And there are people in Washington who think that a midterm year in divided government is a challenging year to try to press for climate change legislation. Can you expand on what the President hopes to urge Congress to adopt in 2014 on climate change?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think if you look at the Climate Action Plan -- when I talk about that as part of the President’s agenda, I talk about that as part of the President’s agenda, not just his legislative agenda. And I’ve mentioned this with regards to economic measures and other measures, including measures to reduce gun violence, that we absolutely want to work with Congress and get bipartisan legislation passed where we can and where Congress chooses to be -- especially House Republicans -- cooperative and to work in a spirit of compromise to get things done that the American people want done.
But where Congress refuses to act, the President will avail himself of whatever means he can to act administratively to advance an agenda that he believes is vital to our economic growth and to the middle class.
So I don’t have specifics. I'll leave that to the President in terms of what actions he'll be taking, what legislation he'll be proposing, how he envisions working with Congress and how he envisions making progress elsewhere on these issues that are so clearly vital to our economic growth, vital to jobs and vital to our national security.
Q One other quick follow up. There's been some reporting on the President's interest in planning for his presidential library, the early stages of putting together a team. Do you know if the President has made a decision to be transparent about the donors who contribute to the construction and development of the library and center?
MR. CARNEY: I think my reading of that story is -- what my understanding is, there isn't even an effort that exists yet. There isn't even an outside organization that exists yet. I know that he and everyone here is focused on advancing the President's agenda for his second term that we just talked about. So I think we're ahead of ourselves, as that article reflected.
Thanks very much.
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March 24, 2014
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