Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 1/23/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:57 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon. Thanks for being here. Before I take your questions, I wanted to note that later this evening the President will speak at a meeting here at the White House with more than 250 bipartisan mayors who are here for their annual conference in Washington this week. The Vice President will also attend.
Mayors are key partners with the White House. A large number of Cabinet Secretaries and senior officials from across our administration have also participated in the conference to discuss how together we can continue to grow our economy, strengthen our communities, expand access to educational opportunity, help more consumers access quality, affordable health insurance, and more.
As many of you recall, some of these mayors were also here just a few weeks ago when we announced the first five Promise Zone designees -- a great example of the kinds of partnerships the President has been focusing on as part of our Year of Action. And in December, the President had the opportunity to meet with more than a dozen newly elected mayors from across the country. So we look forward to hosting the U.S. Conference of Mayors here at the White House today and continuing this dialogue on how we can take action together on so many important issues.
Q These are all bipartisan mayors?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s a good point. I should proofread this. (Laughter.) They are mayors from all parties, and I assume there are some independents and unaffiliated.
Q Thank you. The President has a little speech coming up next week. I’m wondering if you can give us a sense of where he stands in his preparations for State of the Union and just how he views the speech this year in his sixth year in office as opposed to previous years.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is continuing to work on his State of the Union address. I think the feeling here is that the speech is coming along and the President will continue to refine it over the coming days. The State of the Union address, no matter which year you give it, is a unique opportunity for any President to speak to the nation from Congress and lay out, as has been the tradition, his or her vision for the coming year -- an assessment both of where the country is and where it can and should go.
The President will cover a range of issues, and I’m not going to preview the speech today, but I think you can expect that he will, as he consistently does, focus on the essential need to expand economic opportunity throughout our country; to reward hard work and responsibility; to move forward with our economic recovery so that our economy grows faster, it creates more and better jobs; and that we continue to invest in a way that solidifies an economic foundation for future economic growth in the 21st century.
Q He typically travels to a few stops around the country in the days after the State of the Union. Is that the plan for next week as well?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have a schedule announcement to make. We’ll certainly, as we get closer to the State of the Union address, let you know what our plans are. I think it stands to reason that we’ll be continuing to talk about elements of the State of the Union address in the days and weeks and months that follow.
Q And then on a separate topic, the situation in Ukraine seems to have really deteriorated over the past couple of days. I’m wondering what the U.S. thinks of this dynamic right now between the government there and the protestors.
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’re correct in your assessment and we condemn the violence taking place in Kiev and continue to urge all sides to immediately deescalate the situation and refrain from violence. We welcome the news that President Yanukovych is meeting directly with opposition leaders. Political dialogue to address the legitimate concerns of the Ukrainian people is the necessary first step towards resolving this crisis. Next, we need to see concrete steps taken by the government.
Now, this increasing tension in Ukraine is a direct consequence of the government failing to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of its people. Instead, it has moved to weaken the foundations of Ukraine’s democracy by criminalizing peaceful protest and stripping civil society and political opponents of key democratic protections under the law.
We urge the government of Ukraine to take steps that represent a better way forward, including repeal of the anti-democratic legislation signed into law in recent days, withdrawing the riot police from downtown Kiev, and beginning a dialogue with the political opposition.
From its first days, the Maidan movement has been defined by a spirit of nonviolence, and we support calls by opposition political leaders to reestablish that principle. We, the United States, will continue to consider additional steps, including sanctions, in response to the use of violence.
Q One of the demands from the protesters is that the government immediately be dissolved and that new elections be held. Is that something the U.S. supports?
MR. CARNEY: We support an end to the violence. We support a dialogue between the government and the opposition movement. And we will obviously, as the situation evolves, consider other steps.
Q Jay, at what point would you move to impose additional sanctions on Ukraine?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn’t predict. I would simply say that we will consider those steps in response to the use of violence. I can tell you that the State Department has already revoked the visas of several people responsible for the violence, and we will continue to consider additional steps in response to any violence by any actors. So for those kinds of moves, I would refer you to the State Department. But we’ll consider other actions.
Q Okay. What’s your understanding of when the debt ceiling would be breached if there’s no agreement?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the letter that Secretary Lew wrote and make clear our view that this is something that is Congress’s responsibility and ought to be acted on without drama and without delay. It is simply an action that Congress takes in order to pay the bills that Congress has incurred, and therefore should be done in a manner that in no way endangers or disrupts economic growth and job creation.
Q Speaker Boehner’s office says there’s no way the House would approve a clean debt ceiling increase. Does that worry you at all?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point back to the disruption caused by the shutdown in October, the harm done to our economy by the threats House Republicans made to our economy through threatening default back in 2011, and suggest that pursuing that path is always a bad idea and it is harmful particularly to the middle class in the United States, and we wouldn’t expect that kind of action to be taken.
Q And lastly -- we got into this a little bit yesterday -- are you satisfied with the level of cooperation you’re getting from the Russians on the Sochi Olympics?
MR. CARNEY: We continue to engage with the Russians about security matters in Sochi. We have offered our full support and any assistance to the Russian government in its security preparations for the Sochi Games. Russian authorities, as you know, will be responsible for overall security at the games, and the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security has the security lead for the United States. We will send Diplomatic Security and FBI agents to liaise with host-country security and law enforcement officials, and we’ve obviously been in discussions with the Russian government about that.
And as I noted yesterday, we have seen an uptick in threat reporting prior to the Olympics, and that’s a concern even though it is to be expected when you have an international event like this. So we’ve offered the assistance that we’ve offered to the Russians and continue to discuss with them security measures and issues related to the Games.
Q May I follow up, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Jon-Christopher.
Q Has there been any discussions along the same lines with U.S. and NATO allies in terms of the security?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know the answer to that, Jon-Christopher. Obviously, we are, as would be expected, in conversations with the host nation and making the necessary preparations that we would do in an event like this given the fact that there will be American athletes and American spectators and corporate sponsors and the like. So I would refer you to the other countries in terms of what precautions they’re taking and the kind of conversations they may be having with the Russians.
Q But there’s been no phone calls with --
MR. CARNEY: Again, well, Jon-Christopher, I can’t account for every phone call that’s made between the State Department and other governments and allies on these issues, but I can tell you that this is something that we’re obviously very attentive to. And I can tell you that Lisa Monaco, the President’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor and Deputy National Security Advisor, is leading a White House and interagency coordination body to ensure that the full resources of the U.S. government are aligned in support of our athletes, delegation, and Americans attending the Olympics.
As with any large international sporting event in which the United States participates, this includes, as I mentioned, the Diplomatic Security and FBI agents on the ground. We are also engaged with the Russians and, in answer to your question, other close partners and allies, and conduct regular outreach to American citizens through the State Department’s travel website. You know that, as we talked about yesterday, the State Department has issued a travel alert, and Americans planning to go to Sochi for the games should avail themselves of that information and take the precautions recommended in that alert.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Jim.
Q Jay, I’m sure you’ve noticed this -- the Iranians seem to be calling into question the way the White House has characterized the interim nuclear deal. In an interview with CNN, the foreign minister said, “The White House tries to portray it as basically a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. That is the word they use time and again,” referring to the word “dismantle” or “dismantling.” We’ve gone through the records and it looks like the White House has only used that word a couple of times, but I’m just curious: What is your response to that? Are they trying to play to a domestic political audience? What do you think is going on?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you answered for me. We’ve said before that we expected the Iranian government to spin the commitments they made under the Joint Plan of Action for their domestic political purposes. We saw that in November, we saw that earlier this month, and clearly we’re seeing it again.
When it comes to the commitments Iran has made as part of the Joint Plan of Action and the implementation of it, we’ve always been clear that the first step will halt progress on Iran’s 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.
Now, we have also been clear that as part of that comprehensive agreement, should it be reached, Iran will be required to agree to strict limits and constraints on all aspects of its nuclear program to include the dismantlement of significant portions of its nuclear infrastructure in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the future.
So I think the dismantlement aspect of this has to do with a comprehensive solution. The agreements that Iran made as part of the Joint Plan of Action, the initial agreement with the P5-plus-1 have been clearly spelled out. And how Iranian officials want to characterize it I think has to be viewed through the prism of the audience they’re speaking to.
What matters to us and to our partners in the P5-plus-1, and I think to the broader international community, is what Iran actually does, and whether or not it adheres to the commitments it makes. And there is a level of transparency and verifiability in this agreement that will allow the P5-plus-1 and the IAEA to make assessments about compliance. And as you know, the modest changes to sanctions that have been made as part of this agreement work like a spigot -- they don't all come at once; that any violation or failure to comply by Iran could be met by a reversal of those changes.
So this is all about what they do, not what they say. And it is absolutely the right thing to do to test whether or not Iran is serious about coming into compliance with its international obligations, providing in a verifiable, transparent way proof that they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon, because that is in the world's benefit and in Iran's benefit, in our view.
Q And, Jay, just to go further with that though, the foreign minister does say in the interview, “We are not dismantling any centrifuges. We are not dismantling any equipment.” President Rouhani said in a separate interview, “We are not going to destroy any centrifuges.” Are they going rogue on this deal?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, I know it's a CNN interview, and I know that's part of this.
Q I'm sorry, what does that mean?
MR. CARNEY: I think we've answered repeatedly that how Iranian officials characterize this for a domestic audience matters far less to us than what they are actually doing. And the fact is the IAEA on Monday verified in a written report and subsequent briefing for P5-plus-1 technical experts that Iran has, among other things, stopped producing 20 percent-enriched uranium, has disabled the configuration of the centrifuge cascades Iran has been using to produce it, and has begun diluting its existing stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium. In addition, it has not installed additional centrifuges at Natanz or Fordow. That's all in compliance with the clearly spelled-out requirements of the agreement. So we take what the IAEA says and assesses and verifies as our guide to whether or not Iran is doing what it said it would do.
Q Have you given any further consideration to the idea that perhaps the White House should release the text of the deal so people can see it, read it?
MR. CARNEY: Well I think, again, as I explained last week that we have provided that text to members of Congress and we provided a summary of that text to the public. This is a document that the IAEA -- it’s basically guidance for the IAEA for the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action.
Q And any response to the Civil Liberties Board report, calling into question the legality of the bulk collection program at the NSA?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. As you know, on Friday the President announced the results of the administration's review of our signals intelligence programs over the past six months. And this review was led by the White House with other departments and agencies across the government. In addition to our own intensive work, the review process drew on input from key stakeholders, including Congress, the tech community, civil society, foreign partners, the review group and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
Now, I'd say a couple of things. One, as you know, the President met with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board on a number of occasions, including very near the end of his own administration’s review and was able to benefit from the conclusions of that board in draft form that they discussed. And I can tell you that in the speech that he made on Friday and the actions that the President described on Friday, he is taking steps that were directly derived from some of the recommendations by the PCLOB.
On the issue of 215, we simply disagree with the board’s analysis on the legality of the program. Consistent with the recent holdings of the United States District Courts for the Southern District of New York and the Southern District of California, as well as the finding of 15 judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on 36 separate occasions over the past seven years, the administration believes that the program is lawful. As the President has said, however, he believes we can and should make changes in the program that will give the American people greater confidence in it. Essentially, the President announced that he would be ending the program as it currently exists, and he has instructed Congress and others to evaluate in the coming weeks ways to handle the data so that the federal government does not retain control of that data.
But on the specific question that you raise on the legality of it, we agree with the courts that have ruled on this and the judges of the FISA Court.
Q If I could follow up on that, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board also said that these NSA data collection programs had only a minimal effect on the counterterrorism efforts. So I’m just trying to square this. The President said last June that the NSA’s data collection programs were saving lives and had prevented at least 50 terrorist attacks. Now you have this Privacy and Civil Liberties Board saying the opposite, saying it’s had only a minimum impact on counterterrorism efforts. So who is right here? Is the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board right or is the President right?
MR. CARNEY: What I think the President said on Friday, Jon, is that this program -- combined with the other programs and efforts that are undertaken as part of our signals intelligence collection -- have had the effect of making Americans more safe, of disrupting potential terrorist plots against the United States and the American people as well as our allies, and that it is a useful tool in the effort to combat terrorists who have designs on the United States and on the American people and our allies. It is one of a number of tools.
And I think you saw in the decisions the President announced on Friday, his belief that we can take steps to change that program, to end it as it currently exists, and adopt another PCLOB recommendation, which was to only query the data, the metadata with a court order in order to provide more safeguards and more reassurance to the American people that the program itself is not being abused.
So it’s a useful tool, Jon, and combined, these programs protect the American people, protect our men and women in uniform overseas, protect our allies. And that’s, as the President said, the very important and often thankless work performed by the men and women at the NSA and elsewhere in our intelligence community.
Q Can you point to a single plot that this program has helped to prevent?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I would refer you to ODNI for those kinds of analyses. I can tell you that, as the President said, there’s no question in his mind that this is a useful tool, one of a number of tools that we are able to employ to help protect the United States against a terrorist attack. And having said that, he is making changes and wants others, including Congress, to work with him to make other changes and reforms to ensure that the program is not subject to abuse and that -- while it is still allowed to help us combat terrorism and the threats against us.
Q Just on Afghanistan, a question on the status of forces -- an effort to get an agreement with Karzai. If the United States is unable to strike a deal with Karzai, are troops --
MR. CARNEY: There will be no U.S. or NATO troops beyond 2014.
Q So there’s no way around that? I mean, there’s been some discussion of, well, maybe NATO can strike a deal, or maybe a deal can be struck with a defense minister instead? Karzai has got to do this before he leaves office?
MR. CARNEY: If there’s not a BSA signed we would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troops on the ground in Afghanistan. We simply can’t have that absent a signed bilateral security agreement. I think we’ve, for several --
Q Signed by Karzai.
MR. CARNEY: Well, signed by the Afghan government. And I know the issue is, well, we’ve had discussions about the future of governments. There is not time to wait for a future potential government. The fact is we are beginning to make -- we, broadly speaking here -- but the administration and NATO are beginning to make assessments and plans for 2014, and those decisions have to be made promptly, and they have to be with or without a signed bilateral security agreement. They can’t wait well into 2014. So every day that passes, the further we get into this year, the harder it is to plan in any other way except with the expectation that a bilateral security agreement would not be signed.
We do not prefer that outcome. We do not think that is the best policy. But we simply can’t plan for or have U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 without that agreement signed.
Q Can I follow up on that? And can I just -- it sounds like you’re making a distinction there between Karzai signing the agreement and whoever succeeds Karzai signing the agreement.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, I’m not. I’m simply saying that whatever the process -- it has to be signed by the Afghan government. And there is not time to -- I mean, I don’t know who physically has to sign it, and we can take that question. The issue isn’t a future government, the issue is it has been agreed to -- it has been negotiated with the Afghan government, it has been endorsed by the loya jirga. It needs to be signed. And we cannot act upon -- we can’t act to plan for a 2014 presence that would be for a new mission focused solely on counterterrorism and the training and support of Afghan troops, absent a signed BSA.
Q Okay, that’s good. And as long as I have you, can you I just ask you -- did you just say that it was the PCLOB that persuaded the President to add the judicial review?
MR. CARNEY: No, no. I'm saying that that was one of the PCLOB's recommendations and it was one the President adopted.
Q Jay, thanks. Just going back to the situation in Ukraine, does the President think that President Yanukovych has lost his mandate to lead?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that we are deeply concerned by the violence. This situation arose because of the refusal of the Ukrainian government to listen to and take seriously the grievances of the Ukrainian people. The opposition movement here was a non-violent movement and adopted those principles. And we call on the government to refrain from violence, and we support dialogue between the government and the opposition.
Now, we've taken some of the steps -- the State Department has -- in response to the violence with regards to visas for those viewed as responsible for some of the violence. And we are looking at other actions that we could take if necessary.
Q And then just trying to get on this point, should he resign? Should President Yanukovych resign?
MR. CARNEY: Again, it's not for the United States to make that determination. What we are calling for is an end to the violence. We made clear our view that it is incumbent upon the Ukrainian government to, in a non-violent way, respond to the legitimate aspirations and grievances of the Ukrainian people.
Q Jay, Edward Snowden is holding a live online chat later today. Do you have a reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Can you respond to what he told the New Yorker? He said, "This Russian spy push is absurd," referring to obviously some of the statements that were made over the weekend that he may have been working in conjunction with Russia.
MR. CARNEY: I think I've answered this question earlier by saying simply that this is obviously a matter handled by the Department of Justice. Charges have been brought against Mr. Snowden for leaking -- or releasing classified information. These are felony charges. He ought to be returned to the United States and face those charges. And here in the United States, he would be accorded the full protections of defendants in this country. And it is our view that he should come back to the United States to face those charges.
Q And I know you were asked about it yesterday, but just to try to pin you down on this point -- is the administration ruling out the possibility that he could have been working with Russia?
MR. CARNEY: Again, these are matters that are under investigation. He's been charged with felonies. I'm not going to wade into those kinds of assessments.
Q So you won't rule it out.
MR. CARNEY: I'm simply not commenting.
Q Okay. And then, just quickly -- South Sudan's government, the rebels are apparently preparing to sign a ceasefire shortly. Can you update us on that situation and what the administration knows about it?
MR. CARNEY: We welcome today's signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement between the government of South Sudan and opposition forces. This is the first -- this is a first critical step in ending the violence that began on December 15th and building a sustainable peace in South Sudan. We expect both parties to fully and swiftly implement the agreement, and to demonstrate a firm commitment to the letter and the spirit of the agreement in the coming weeks and months. The United States urges both sides to build on this momentum by moving swiftly to an inclusive political dialogue to resolve the underlying causes of the current conflict.
The U.S. will remain a steady partner to those who choose the path of peace and continue to work for a more peaceful, democratic, unified South Sudan.
Q A former U.N. official, Jan Egeland, today was quoted as saying that some of the atrocities committed in South Sudan were as bad as those in Syria. So I'm wondering, would the U.S. support -- fully support efforts and accountability for the killing that went on there?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. Those who have committed atrocities must be held accountable. That is our position.
Q Jay, back to Iran. Another thing President Rouhani said is on -- impacts American business. And he said in Davos that he believes because of what he -- I believe he called it "constructive engagement" with the U.S. He invited American businesses to come in. I know previously the administration has said Iran is still closed for business. Can you clarify now in this six-month period -- can American businesses start talking to Iran?
MR. CARNEY: The sanctions regime that exists has not changed. And violation of the sanctions that remain in place will be no more acceptable or tolerated than it has in the past. I think we have been clear that the modest sanctions relief that comes as part of the Joint Plan of Action is limited to the very specific aspects that have been detailed in the agreement. So I think that's all there is. And the point that we made again and again is that the sanctions structure and the regime remains in place. We continue to enforce all aspects of it, and have demonstrated that I think in recent weeks.
If Iran reaches a comprehensive solution with the P5-plus-1, obviously part of that would be consideration of further measures to end Iran's isolation and improve their economy. But we are a long way from that. And we have been clear that this is going to be a difficult process. And we are simply committed, with our P5-plus-1 partners, to testing whether or not Iran is serious about resolving this conflict with the international community.
Q On that question, when you continue to say that on their nuclear comments that they're just making these comments for domestic political consumption, CNN is broadcast outside of Iran, right, you can confirm?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I've seen it here. (Laughter.)
Q So aren't they also sending a message to you, to the President, to the U.S.? It's not just domestic political consumption if they're talking to a broader audience.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, what I can tell you is that we are looking at what the Iranians are actually doing -- are they complying with the very specific commitments they made in the Joint Plan of Action. And as I mentioned earlier to Jim, representing both CNN and CNN International here --
Q Thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: -- the fact is that on Monday, the IAEA verified in a written report and subsequent briefing for P5-plus-1 technical experts that Iran has, among other things, stopped producing 20 percent-enriched uranium; disabled the configuration of the centrifuge cascades Iran has been using to produce it; has begun diluting its existing stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium; and has not installed additional centrifuges at Natanz or Fordow.
So those are the specific actions they are committed to or bound to through the agreement to take, and the IAEA is verifying that they are moving forward on that. How the leaders characterize the agreement matters far less to us than whether or not they meet their commitments in the agreement.
Q But David Albright, who I think you would agree is an independent expert on all of this, released a report, his think tank, just a few days ago that said specifically that Iran has to destroy 15,000 centrifuges as part of a final deal to make sure they don’t get breakout technology, make sure they don’t get nuclear weapons. So my question is, based on President Rouhani saying we’re not going to destroy any centrifuges --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the quote was -- again, I don’t speak Farsi, and again it matters less to us what they say than what they do, but “we are not” is different from “we will not.” And there is absolutely -- there is no disagreement that when it comes to --
Q He said -- not under any -- will you destroy centrifuges? Not under any circumstances.
MR. CARNEY: Iran will be required, under a comprehensive solution, to agree to strict limits and constraints on all aspects of its nuclear program to include the dismantlement of significant portions of its nuclear infrastructure.
Now, we are just at the beginning of this process. If Iran fails to comply with the agreements it’s made or if Iran fails to reach an agreement with the P5-plus-1 on a comprehensive solution, we will be in a situation where we have to consider alternate steps to fulfill the President’s commitment that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.
The point of the negotiations is to see whether or not Iran is serious about coming into compliance and meeting its obligations with its international commitments.
Q On that point -- for them to be serious, they would have to accept a deal that would involve the destruction of some centrifuges, correct?
MR. CARNEY: The dismantlement of significant portions of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
Q And by that, you mean centrifuges?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to parse --
Q But this is specific centrifuges, not just broad infrastructure.
MR. CARNEY: On centrifuges.
MR. CARNEY: Iran does not need nearly the centrifuge capacity that it has today. As part of the Joint Plan of Action, Iran committed to leave inoperable roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz, and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow, so they cannot be used to enrich Uranium. As part of a comprehensive solution, we will require that Iran dismantle a significant amount of its nuclear infrastructure related to uranium enrichment.
Again, we are at the beginning of a six-month process. Where we are at the end of that process and whether or not a comprehensive solution can be reached is unknown. But it is absolutely the right thing to do, having locked in the Joint Plan of Action and commitments that Iran has made to halt and roll back aspects of its nuclear program, to test whether or not Iran is serious about reaching a comprehensive solution -- because ultimately, the surest way to make sure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon is to have Iran’s verifiable transparent commitment not to do that. So that’s why the United States and the P5-plus-1 is pursuing this potential diplomatic resolution to this conflict.
Q The former Deputy Director of the CIA said yesterday that there was reason to believe that Snowden’s material or some of it was compromised when he landed in Hong Kong -- in other words, much earlier than might have been previously thought. Is this something of which the White House is aware?
MR. CARNEY: Well, on matters like this, I can only tell you that there is a legal process in place, Mr. Snowden has been charged. And I would refer you to -- whether it’s comments by lawmakers on this issue or others -- to the Department of Justice.
Q Well, this is someone who probably was in a position to know, and we hadn’t heard this specifically before.
MR. CARNEY: There’s a legal case against Mr. Snowden that’s being handled by the Department of Justice. So for questions like that, I would have to refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q On trade promotion authority, what does the President make of these calls around town from the business groups and joined by Mr. Boehner and everything that he needs to mention it in the State of the Union and get members of his own party onboard? How does he view that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to preview any aspect of the State of the Union address today, but I can tell you that trade promotion authority is a key part of a comprehensive strategy that the President has to increase exports and support more American jobs at higher wages, including in a stronger manufacturing sector.
We have welcomed the introduction of the bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014 as an important step towards Congress updating its important role in trade negotiations. And we are actively working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress throughout the legislative process to pass TPA legislation with as broad bipartisan support as possible. So that includes, obviously, Republicans and Democrats.
Q Is it critical that it pass this year, or can it be put off until 2015?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s a priority of the President’s. It’s part of a comprehensive strategy to increase exports and support American jobs. I’m not going to put a timeframe on it, but it’s a priority and we're working towards its passage.
Q On the State of the Union, a lot of the stuff the President called for last year is still languishing. How does he adjust this year? Does he go back to the same ideas? Does he trim his sails a little bit? How does that color what he does this year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I'm not going to preview the State of the Union address. What I can tell you -- when you look at things the President discussed in last year's State of the Union, comprehensive immigration reform is a good example. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that meets the principles the President laid out, and they did so in a bipartisan way. And we certainly hope that the House will follow suit.
So that is not completed, but progress has been made. And we hope Congress will act so that the President can sign a bill that reforms our immigration system in a way that strengthens our borders, gives significant assistance to economic growth, and provides all the other benefits that we've discussed.
When it comes to other things that we can be doing to help the economy grow, there are opportunities the President has discussed that we can move forward on that include congressional action. There are things that he and the administration can do without congressional action that can help advance that agenda, and the President has been talking about that quite a bit in recent days.
And you can expect that in the coming weeks and months of this year, as part of what we're calling a Year of Action, you'll hear the President discuss other things that he can and will do, and that the administration can and will do using the power of his office -- both the pen and the phone -- to help advance an agenda that expands economic opportunity, that rewards hard work and responsibility, and lifts up the middle class and makes it more secure.
Beyond that, you'll have to wait and see what's in the speech.
Q -- does he go back to minimum wage? Does he go back to early childhood education?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the absolute imperative to raise the minimum wage certainly hasn't gone away. And I think that in the interim you've seen state after state pass increases in the minimum wage, and you've seen other states consider raising the minimum wage absent federal action.
So this goes to the heart of rewarding hard work. I think as a basic principle here in the United States, there's broad agreement, regardless of political affiliation, that if you work full time, if you work hard because you want to take responsibility for yourself and your family, you should be paid a living wage. You should not be paid a wage that leaves you in poverty.
So as a basic principle, raising the minimum wage remains as compelling an idea today as it was last year. And the President is certainly encouraged by actions taken by the states, but that’s not enough. We ought to move forward, Congress ought to move forward to raise the minimum wage. And we support legislation that would do that.
Q There's been some talk about what happens if there aren't enough young, healthy people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. Would the administration take a definitive stance that there will be no taxpayer bailout of insurance companies if worst comes to worst on that?
MR. CARNEY: Fred, I think what you’ve seen in the data that’s been released is that there’s been steady and significant increases in enrollments, especially in December, and that includes an even quicker increase in the enrollments of young people under 35, and we expect that will continue. In fact, the data that was released by CMS tracks very closely with the way that the Massachusetts health insurance reform program unrolled upon implementation, and that includes as it relates to the percentage of young people who enrolled.
So we’re encouraged by the data we’ve seen, but we obviously created a lot of obstacles for ourselves in the implementation of the ACA marketplaces with the faulty rollout of the healthcare.gov website. Significant improvements have been made. I think proof of that is that there’s so little reporting on those improvements.
So we’re going to continue at it. We’re not there yet. The deadline is March 31st, and we look forward to continuing to see increases in enrollments, including among young Americans.
Q Thanks, Jay. Amid concerns about the treatment of gay people in Russia and the country’s antigay law, Vladimir Putin was quoted over the weekend as saying, when asked about these issues, that population growth is so vital to Russia’s development that “anything that gets in the way of that we should clean up,” using a word usually reserved for military operations. What’s your reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t see that report. Our views on this issue and legislation that’s been passed in Russia have been clearly expressed. So I can’t comment on that particular report except that we obviously believe it is very much in the interest of Russia to conduct an Olympics that welcomes everyone. And our views on the matters of LGBT rights and equality are very clear.
Q Jay, any calls for the President to apply the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that freezes the assets of Russian citizens and bars U.S. entry of Russians found in violation of human rights to those behind the anti-LGBT atmosphere in that country? Among those behind this idea is Senator Ben Cardin. Is anything like that under consideration?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that report and I don’t have any update on our position on the Magnitsky Act. But you can be sure that our views about universal rights and specifically LGBT rights are clearly expressed with regards to, whether it’s Russia or elsewhere, actions taken by countries that are in conflict with those principles.
Q And finally, did any of the issues come up during the President’s call with President Putin earlier this week?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a further readout beyond what we provided.
Jared, and then Mike.
Q Jay, not that long ago, at the RNC winter meeting here in Washington, Mike Huckabee said that the Democrats’ message to women is that they are -- I’m reading from the report here -- “they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government.” Is that the President’s message?
MR. CARNEY: I hadn’t seen that report, but whoever said it, it sounds offensive to me -- and to women.
Q On immigration, much has been made of the issue of deportations, how they’ve risen over the course of the Obama administration. The President took unilateral action on the DREAMers by not enforcing deportation of younger people who came to this country without any conscious decision on their own. But in response to the heckler in San Francisco and elsewhere, he has said that he can’t do that for the rest of the illegal immigrant population. I’m wondering, what is the legal distinction between the DREAMers and the rest of the population when it comes to deportation?
MR. CARNEY: For legal analysis, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security.
Q Why can’t he do the same thing for older people as he did for younger?
MR. CARNEY: What the President has made clear is that he obviously has to, and the federal government has to, enforce the law. And this is an issue that goes right to the heart of why it is necessary to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation that addresses all of the aspects encompassed by immigration reform, including the need for border security; including the need for improved legal immigration so that we can take advantage of all the brilliant young people from around the world who come and study in our universities and would like to start businesses here but currently face obstacles to doing that; that provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in this country that makes the significant number of requirements in order to travel that path, including getting to the back of the line.
So this is not something that can be resolved by a single action of the President. That’s why we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Q Kevin McCarthy is the number-three Republican in the House. He came out in an interview with his local station in Bakersfield, I think, in favor of a path to legality if not citizenship for those here illegally. What’s your reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, our view has been that we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and when it comes to creating two classes of people in this country, we have always thought that was the wrong approach. And we’re not alone. One of the notable hallmarks of the push for comprehensive immigration reform is that it is supported by Democrats and Republicans, by labor and business, by law enforcement and faith communities. The support for this is broad-based, it’s bipartisan, it’s nonpartisan. It has enormous economic benefits to our country, and that’s why we ought to pass it.
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