Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/21/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
**Please see below for corrections marked with asterisks.
1:33 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: I think it was Zeke who tweeted that maybe we could have the game on here, but I couldn't make that happen. So any updates would be appreciated. Did somebody say, “What?” They don't know what I'm talking about? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Hockey.
Q Did you bet with your counterpart?
MR. CARNEY: I let the President do the gambling. Well, I also had --
Q Gamble with Putin? (Laughter.)
Q Every day. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: The President and I are both hopeful that Team USA will prevail -- the game is not over -- and that he'll break even. I was very disappointed, we all were, by the heartbreaking loss suffered yesterday by USA Women in hockey. It was an amazing game.
I don't have any other things to talk about at the top -- (laughter) -- so we'll go straight to your questions. Nedra.
Q Thanks, Jay. We saw your statement on welcoming the agreement in Ukraine. What’s the President’s message for President Putin today in that phone call?
MR. CARNEY: The President either is right now or is about to speak with President Putin, and obviously they will talk about Ukraine. And we'll have a fuller readout of that conversation after it’s been completed.
The fact of the matter is it is in Russia’s interest for the violence to end in Ukraine, as it is in the interest of the United States and our European friends, and of course, most importantly, the Ukrainian people. And we welcome the cessation of violence and we welcome the agreements that have been reached. And the measures that have been passed through the Parliament are still at an implementation stage and we monitor this very closely.
I'm sure these issues will all be discussed in that conversation. And I think as my colleague, Tony Blinken, noted not long ago, our European friends, foreign ministers from Germany, Poland and -- sorry -- were very much engaged, as were the Russians, in -- and France -- sorry -- France, Poland and Germany were very much engaged, and Russia observed the agreement. And Russia’s efforts on behalf of creating the ceasefire and these agreements were obviously welcome.
Q China said that the meeting that the President had with the Dalai Lama would damage relations. Is the President concerned about that?
MR. CARNEY: The President, as he has in the past on several occasions, and as Presidents of both parties have done dating back to 1991, met today, as we said in the readout, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader.
When it comes to the relationship the United States has with China, the President and the Dalai Lama agreed on the importance of a positive and constructive U.S.-China relationship. And of course, we are committed to a constructive relationship with China in which we work together to solve regional and global problems. So, again, this is in keeping with past practice, the meeting the President had today with His Holiness in his capacity as a respected religious and cultural leader.
Q Does China’s objection to that meeting have any role to play in why there wasn’t any media access allowed for the visit today?
MR. CARNEY: I certainly understand the interest in having media access. The meeting the President had today in the Dalai Lama’s capacity as a religious and cultural leader was in keeping with past practice. And we have been working, as you know, to provide more access to photographers as well as to all of you, and in this case we weren’t able to do that, but we have been working on that effort.
Q Why weren’t you able to do that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, April, I would simply say that there will never be a day for me or my successors in administrations well into the future where those who occupy the seats in front of me are satisfied with the level of access, which is not to dismiss the interest in, which I think
are is legitimate, access to the President, but only to say that we -- I know that we won’t succeed even as we make efforts to expand access to get you access to everything you’d like to have access to.**
Q But as you say, in past practice, the Dalai Lama has even come out to stakeout during the Clinton years and the Bush years.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we don’t -- obviously anybody who leaves the building is free to talk to the press.
Q What diplomatic efforts were made ahead of the meeting to tell China that it was going to happen? And specifically, did Secretary Kerry mention that the meeting would be happening during his recent visit to China?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have specific readouts, specific conversations. We are in contact with our Chinese counterparts on a regular basis at a variety of levels, so -- I don't have anything specific on a conversation around this particular visit. We're in regular contact with the Chinese.
Q So did the White House give advance notice?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just don’t have a specific readout on that. I can tell you that we’re in conversations with the Chinese at a variety of levels on a whole panoply of subjects.
Q And I understand that he was here in D.C. doing other things, meeting with other people. But do you have any information about how this meeting at the White House came about, whether it was something the White House asked for or whether he asked for it?
MR. CARNEY: Beyond what you just said, which is that he was here on other business and that this is similar to the meetings that this President and other Presidents have had with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the past, I don’t have any background on how this particular meeting came about. But I would point to the similarity between this meeting and past meetings between His Holiness and President Obama and previous Presidents.
Q Lastly, does the agreement in Ukraine basically mean that the U.S. no longer needs to apply further sanctions and can put the so-called toolkit back on the shelf?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s a great question and what I would say is that our focus today is on working with our European partners as well as the government and opposition in Ukraine to ensure the agreement’s implementation. And we are not ruling out sanctions to hold those responsible for the violence accountable, especially should there be further violence or violation of the agreement.
Right now we’re focused on the implementation of the agreement. We obviously welcome the steps that have been taken. The steps that have been taken are entirely consistent with what the President advocated, including calling for a de-escalation of the violence, constitutional change, a coalition government, and early elections. All of that has either happened in terms of the de-escalation of violence thus far, or is included in the agreement that has been reached.
So we consider this a positive development -- mindful of the fact that the agreement is one thing, implementation is another, and we’re going to be closely monitoring that with our European friends as well as working with the Ukrainians.
Q I wanted to ask you about the President’s warning to the Ukrainians. On Wednesday, he warned there would be consequences if people stepped over the line. Then that truce broke apart on Thursday. But then the Vice President called again over to Ukraine and warned the Ukrainian President to pull back his forces, talked about sanctions. You think the President’s warnings had an impact?
MR. CARNEY: I think that there has been a concerted and fairly uniform reaction around the world to what happened in Ukraine. And you’ve see our European partners act and express their extreme concern. You saw the President do so, and you saw Prime Minister Harper, obviously, together with the President, in Mexico. And as you noted, the Vice President has been clear with President Yanukovych what our position is and what actions we were prepared to take and what actions we already have taken -- as you know, the visa bans that apply to those responsible for the violence.
So I think that, as a general matter, it was fairly clear how the world viewed what was happening in Ukraine, and in particular, how the United States and France and Germany and Poland and other countries viewed what was happening.
Q And the President -- with respect to his phone call with President Putin, which may be happening now -- the President said on Wednesday this is not an international chess game that he’s having with President Putin. But there is, wouldn’t you agree, a tug of war between the West and Russia over Ukraine? Isn’t that sort of what’s playing out?
MR. CARNEY: No. And I think I have a little deeper expertise in this matter than perhaps some others and I would say that it is profoundly different from the Cold War era in that what we’ve seen in recent weeks and months is the expressed desire of the Ukrainian people for a future that they decide on their own for themselves, for their nation, and that desire expressed by Ukrainians on the street through peaceful protests.
And it was the reaction to that -- the unacceptable reaction to that, that led to the violence that we saw.
So the President is correct when he says that this is not about the United States and Russia, or the West and Russia. This is about Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and their desire for the right to choose their own destiny, the right to a government that represents them and their interests. And what we have seen at least the potential for in the last 24 hours is an agreement that reflects and responds to the desires expressed by the Ukrainian people.
Q And just to get to the President’s remarks to the DGA last night, he said that perhaps Democrats don’t view midterms as sexy enough. Is he worried that his party is getting complacent?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think the President was reflecting pretty established information when it comes to turnout in midterm elections.
I’m confident that in individual races in districts and states, as well as at the national level, that the Democratic Party and its candidates will make every effort to turn out voters because every election matters, and participation in our democracy is what makes it work and what makes it function and what makes it responsive to the American people. But I think that, for as long as I’ve been around, that reflects a fact about at least patterns of turnout when it comes to midterms versus presidential years.
Q He referred to the 2010 midterms as a shellacking. Is he worried about another shellacking that’s on the horizon here?
MR. CARNEY: No. In fact, the President is confident that Democrats are unified behind an agenda that is focused on expanding opportunity and rewarding hard work and rewarding Americans who take responsibility for themselves and their families. It’s reflected specifically in policy proposals that Democrats support and are pushing, and that the American people support and want their representatives to take action on. So I think as I said the other day, we’re confident that that agenda is one that is welcomed by the American people and that will be reflected in the election.
Let me move around a little bit, up and back.
Q Just getting back to the Dalai Lama for a minute, does the meeting itself with the Dalai Lama from the White House perspective mean that the U.S. supports his call for an autonomous Tibet?
MR. CARNEY: Support his call for?
Q An autonomous Tibet.
MR. CARNEY: The United States supports the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” approach of neither assimilation, nor independence for Tibetans in China. The United States recognizes Tibet to be a part of the People’s Republic of China and we do not support Tibetan independence. The U.S. strongly supports human rights and religious freedom in China. We are concerned about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China. We will continue to urge the Chinese government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions as a means to reduce tensions.
So that’s our view, and that view reflects our concern about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China.
Q Just to follow up on Ukraine and the Russian role. What is the White House view of how unhelpful Russia was in what we have seen unfold over the past several days, weeks? And were you suggesting now with this agreement that the Russians have played a constructive role in the emergence of this agreement?
MR. CARNEY: Here is what I would say on the first part of the question is that the conflict arose out of the disappointment and dissatisfaction that the Ukrainian people felt about decisions made by the government that didn’t reflect their will when it came to their desire to be integrated into Europe. So that's about the views of the Ukrainian people.
When it comes to the fact that an agreement was reached, there’s no question that the efforts of the French, Polish and German foreign ministers, as well as the United States, the President and the Vice President, Secretary Kerry and our diplomats, helped precipitate the agreement. And Russia witnessed the agreement and played an important role in that respect. So I think that reflects what the President said and what others have said, and that is that it is in Russia’s interest that Ukraine not be engulfed in violence -- Kyiv or other places -- and that it return to stability and that progress be made towards a future in Ukraine that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people.
So it's very important to view this not as a tug of war between East and West, or the United States and Russia, but a discussion that led to confrontation and violence but hopefully now is retreating from that, but then will result in progress forward on behalf of the Ukrainian people, a proud people and a great nation, that desire the right to determine their own future. And that's something the United States unequivocally supports.
Q There was some concern that after the end of the Olympics, once the Olympics are over that kind of any restraints would be off and the Russians will be less concerned about the optics of having this kind of violence at their doorstep and things could get worse, post Olympics. Is there any --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we're going to constantly monitor the situation in Ukraine as the agreements that have been reached are being implemented. And as I said earlier, we are prepared to take quick action on other measures including sanctions should violence return in Ukraine. And I think you would see similar reaction from European nations.
I guess in answer to that question, I would simply note that what we saw happen graphically and horrifically in Ukraine happened this week, while the Olympics were ongoing.
Q So if I can just ask one of the Dalai Lama. Was the White House’s decision not to allow photographers in, in part made not to offend the Chinese? Obviously, previous Presidents have met with the Dalai Lama and done it under very similar circumstances, but have allowed coverage, photo coverage. So was the administration worried about going too far in upsetting the Chinese and not allowing photographers in to cover this?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, what I can tell you is I’m absolutely appreciative of the interest in having access to a meeting like this. It occurred in much the same way as past meetings that President Obama has had with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader. The fact is we don’t have photographers in every meeting the President has, but we are mindful of the interest there is in these kinds of meetings and work to provide as much access as we can.
Q This is somebody who represents, what, 7 million Tibetans and Buddhists, many millions elsewhere around the world. This is not just any old meeting. I mean, you could see how there would be intense interest in coverage of this. And, again, there has been precedent for having some coverage of this. The answer -- I don’t think you directly answered my question, which is was this decision not to allow coverage of this made in part so as not to further offend the Chinese, who are already upset this meeting is taking place?
MR. CARNEY: The answer I have for you, Jon, is that the approach we took was similar to the approach we’ve taken in the past. And the fact of the meeting is well known. Our views on Tibet and the need for respect for religious freedom are as they were and I’m expressing them again today.
So that’s the context I would view it in. I don’t have a parsing of the decisions we make about when there is going to be photo access.
Q If you’ll come back to me, Jay, I’ll yield to Connie for a question.
MR. CARNEY: Connie.
Q Thank you so much, Major. This is about Cuban American prisoners that I emailed you about. Our National Press Club group had a session at the Cuban Interest Section the other night, on the 19th. I ask the chief or the ambassador, José Cabañas, what it would take to free Alan Gross from a Cuban prison. Whether he is guilty or innocent, that’s irrelevant. Later he said to me, what about the three remaining prisoners in U.S. jails? Now, he said, he’d like to talk to somebody in the White House about this situation. He calls it a human rights situation. He doesn’t want to call it a prisoner swap or a prisoner exchange. He doesn’t appear to want to go through the Swiss. So my question is, are there any direct talks going on to try to resolve this human rights situation? Would the U.S. be willing to have --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are very concerned about Alan Gross. We’ve expressed very clearly that he ought to be released immediately and we’ve made that view clear to the Cuban government. And we work on this issue all the time. I don’t have any conversations to read out to you, but it remains a concern of ours that we are focused on.
Q But will the U.S. change policy and talk directly to Cuba about this?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we have conversations all the time that make very clear our views on this matter and I don’t think it is a mystery at all to the Cubans that we believe he ought to be released immediately.
Q What about releasing Cuban prisoners?
MR. CARNEY: Connie, I’m not going to get involved in a negotiation with another country from the podium. What I can tell you is our view is unequivocal.
Q I don’t want to belabor this, but I’m on the Correspondents Association and I’ve made a pledge to all the members to protest or raise my objections on behalf of everyone when it’s a situation that could be covered and isn’t covered, is labeled to us as closed press and then almost instantaneously, a White House produced photograph is released of the very news event that we have demonstrable interest in. And we’ve had a long dialogue -- it’s been cordial, I think it’s at times been productive -- but this strikes me, and I believe it strikes other members of the Association as inconsistent with your pledge to take our concern about such news events, and then almost immediate White House production of coverage of that event, which cuts us out completely.
MR. CARNEY: Major, all I can tell you is that my pledge was sincere and we have taken steps that I think have been acknowledged by photographers and others to open access and improve access. We’ve had circumstances when I’ve offered access and it has been declined. But what I never pledged, and what I can’t possibly pledge, and none of my successors in the history of this office will pledge, is that we’re going to give access to every meeting the President has -- even ones that are of profound interest to the press for understandable reasons.
Q And it would just be worth putting on the record that the Dalai Lama did not object or raise objections to press coverage, did he?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a readout from him. He’s available.
Q Right, but he was here all week.
Q He’s gone. He’s gone.
MR. CARNEY: But again, April, the suggestion -- I mean, the Dalai Lama speaks with the press, as I understand it, at least based on my reading of the press, with some frequency. So he’s free to do that.
Q Was he asked not to go to stakeout as well from this White House?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Okay. On Ukraine, is there a message the White House also has for the protestors and the opposition figures? Because they must accept some compromise in this as well. They’ve been taking to the streets, they’ve risked life and limb to seek the immediate removal of the Yanukovych government. This agreement does not set that forth. It sets elections at some point in the distance. Is the message from the White House, you have to respect that as well, and you have to take some delay and also maybe stop protesting or pull back in order to let this agreement work?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we are at the early stages of implementation. And so --
Q But it seems like both sides have obligations here.
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s no question, and certainly as we make clear, even though we are and were of the strong opinion that the Ukrainian government bore responsibility for the violence, that it was incumbent upon everyone to refrain from violence. And that’s point one.
Point two, the agreement sought and reached called for a coalition government, and I believe there is a timetable associated with that that’s quite quick -- early elections -- I believe that is explicitly laid out in the agreement, and they are this year. And we will see if implementation is carried out. But it is certainly the case that, thus far, the steps that have been taken and agreed to reflect our view of what -- and I think others’ view -- of what the Ukrainian people ought to have as a result of this dispute and confrontation.
Q You invited us to apprise your expertise, and I want to do that just a bit. Why do you think it’s an oversimplification or a misreading of the history to place this in not a contemporaneous Cold War context but even in that sort of phraseology, that this is a “sphere of influence” debate as much as anything else?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I guess you could certainly argue, and I wouldn’t dispute it, that Moscow and the Russian government has views about its interests and where they feel they ought to be asserted. And we have profound disagreements with Russia on some of these matters, most notably Syria.
What I think is wholly distinct is the analogy to a Cold War conflict where, in many cases, some of these disagreements were -- they were conflicts that were simply proxy conflicts. And that is not the case, because the Ukrainian people are not substitutes for anyone in this conflict. They are representing themselves and their nation. They are expressing their desires, not U.S. desires or European desires. And our position is only that their desires be listened to by their government. And that’s what democracy is all about. And I think what we’ve seen transpire is wholly different from the kinds of things that happened during the height of the Cold War.
Q You mentioned Syria. I’ve got one more on that. The Vice President has been on the phone twice this week with Yanukovych for an hour each time. Even when you account, as you would inevitably would have to, for translation time, that’s a lot of time on the phone. Can you describe his interaction with the President on these phone calls and how closely the Vice President’s role in talking to Yanukovych, sensing his willingness or ability to compromise or move forward? How did this week play out in this building with this kind of heavy involvement of the Vice President?
MR. CARNEY: I think the number of and duration of the conversations reflect the seriousness that we -- with which we view the circumstance in Ukraine. And the fact that the Vice President was making these calls reflects how seriously the President views this matter.
The Vice President was very blunt in explaining our views and making clear the violence that was taking place was unacceptable and that we were, like others, prepared to take action and impose sanctions --
Q But he also must have said something that held -- or counseled the President not to unleash sanctions right away to give this a little bit more time to play out. Was there something he was detecting in these conversations that he conveyed to the President?
MR. CARNEY: The circumstances obviously were very fluid. And part of the conversations included urging President Yanukovych to have a dialogue with the opposition, to agree to a coalition government, to agree to early elections, to agree to being responsive to the hopes and desires of the Ukrainian people that we were seeing expressed on the streets in Kyiv and elsewhere.
So I think where there are a lot shared interests and shared views on this, and I’m not suggesting cause and effect, but I think that there was a -- the Vice President was very clear, as the President was, in expressing our views.
Q On Syria, there was a principals meeting here yesterday, and there is a general sense that either new options are being considered or the President has asked for some brand new -- or at least newly creative thinking about what to do now that Geneva appears to be a dead end. The violence continues; human rights and human suffering escalates. Give us the latest thinking, and what was the either agenda or culmination, or did anything come out of that principals meeting yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. It is simply a fact that the President has for a long time been tasking his team with coming up with options available to him on Syria. So there’s not a new review or a new process that has been started or is being completed. This is an ongoing assessment of options with the President urging his team to make sure that we’re exploring all possibilities.
I know there’s been a lot of speculation about what ideas we’re considering, but I don’t have any details to read out to you. I think that, again -- except to rebut the notion that this is a new review of some sort, because there has been an ongoing assessment and reassessment of what is obviously a horrendous situation in Syria, and an assessment of what steps we can take in addition to the highest level of humanitarian assistance, and in addition to the assistance that we provide to the opposition.
Q Is it fair to say this is an assessment under a different backdrop, meaning that Geneva now looks less likely to produce something positive, and new thinking must be applied because that’s a new reality?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve made clear in the run-up to and in the wake of the first meetings in the Geneva process that the prospect for success there was far from guaranteed, that this was going to be a long and hard road. We’ve also made clear that there is no other alternative -- whether you call it Geneva or something else -- to a negotiated political settlement.
So the options we look at in terms of U.S. policy start from the premise that in the end, Syria’s future has to be decided through a negotiation, and that there’s not a military solution to this conflict. We are also obviously looking at ways that we can provide as much help as possible to a Syrian population that is suffering tremendously. We are aggressively at work in New York at the United Nations Security Council on a resolution to open humanitarian aid corridors. And that work continues today and this week, and I think we will see a vote soon on a resolution.
We are also looking at with our partners and allies how we provide assistance to the opposition. And I can tell you that yesterday we completed delivery of non-lethal assistance to Supreme Military Council commanders through the north. Remember, it had been suspended because of an issue with custody and making sure that the assistance we’re providing was getting into the right hands, and we were able to complete a delivery yesterday of non-lethal assistance. So that process continues, and we work not just unilaterally, but with our partners in assessing what needs are and what assistance is most helpful, and in assessing who the aid is going to.
Q Two questions on the Dalai Lama. First, when did the President decide to meet the Dalai Lama? Was this a long-scheduled meeting?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a date on that. Again, I think the Dalai Lama was here on other business, and in the way that has taken place in the past, the President had a meeting with him while he was here in town.
Q Right after the President met with the Dalai Lama, Vice President Biden is going to swear in Senator Baucus to be the ambassador to China. So what’s the implication here? What’s the message?
MR. CARNEY: There is no connection between the two. Senator Baucus was confirmed and the Vice President looks forward to, I’m sure, swearing him in, if he hasn’t already. And we look forward, as an administration and a nation, to having Ambassador Baucus represent the United States in Beijing.
Wendell. Wait, I said Steve. And then Wendell.
Q There have been reports this week that the U.S. has agreed to a new way, with its Arab allies particularly, of identifying rebels and supplying rebels in Syria with weapons and other aid. Are they correct?
MR. CARNEY: It’s correct to say that we are working with our European and Arab allies to assess how we provide assistance. I don’t think it’s correct to say that we found a new way. The fact is we are in close and continuing touch with our European and Arab allies on the issue of Syria and on the issue of provision of aid. And just last week, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco met with Saudi Minister of Interior, Prime Mohammed bin Nayef Abdul-aziz Al Saud, and Syria was among the topics discussed. And I think that reflects the kind of coordination we have with our partners and allies on this subject.
In terms of the assessments made about where aid should go and making sure it goes to the moderate opposition, we have long said that we urge the international community to channel its support for the Syrian people through the established channels to the moderate armed and political opposition. This has been an objective of ours for quite some time. It’s one that we’ve talked about explicitly in this room for a long, long time. And it is normal that these discussions occur with our allies on how best to coordinate our support. Any move in this direction is welcome, and we continue to proceed with this in mind.
Q It’s no secret that the U.S. and the Saudis have been somewhat differing in their approach to this. The President is going to Saudi Arabia next month. Are you even able to say if the coordination has tightened on this, if it’s in better shape than it perhaps was before?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that it is absolutely correct to say that there are many in the international community, including obviously the United States, who are committed to supporting the Syrian people in the fulfillment of their aspirations. And the best chance for us collectively to help the Syrian opposition to achieve a new Syria is if we operate together, if we’re united and organized as we pursue our shared aim. So I think that has long been a goal, and it is one that we discuss frequently with our European and Arab allies.
And beyond that sort of general approach that has been in existence for some time, I don’t have a specific readout of discussions or how we coordinate with our allies on these issues, except to confirm that we certainly do, and that it is our view that coordination is an important component to making the assistance we provide effective.
Wendell, and then Alexis. Wendell, then Peter, then Alexis.
Q The decision to drop chained CPI from the 2015 budget proposal, is that as The Washington Post characterizes it, the President’s way of calling for the “end of austerity?”
MR. CARNEY: No. I thought I saw another Washington Post item that suggested that the Republicans killed the effort because, as we’ve noted -- well, first of all, we don’t accept the idea that it’s dead, because the offer remains on the table. But as we noted, I think with a lot of voices yesterday, including my colleague Josh Earnest, the exception to the rule when it comes to presentation of budgets by Presidents was made last year when President Obama did something unusual, which was include basically Republican demands as part of the negotiations he had had with Speaker Boehner in his own budget, because we were hopeful that by doing so we could make some progress with Republicans in pursuit of a balanced deal towards further deficit reduction.
As you know and maybe even reported, Republicans didn’t take us up on that offer despite repeated meetings with the President, with our Chief of Staff. And, look, it was noted here that that was a pretty big deal to put that offer in the budget.
What the budget this year will reflect is the President’s vision on how we can best fund our government so that it provides expanded opportunity for all Americans, so that it rewards hard work and responsibility. If Republican leaders are interested in accepting the premise that there’s a tax loophole out there for the wealthy and well-connected that ought to be closed as part of a balanced package towards a deficit reduction, then, yes, the offer remains on the table and the President would be willing to have that provision included in a balanced package -- that provision, which Republicans made clear was one of their number-one priorities when it came to deficit reduction.
So what you’ll see when the budget comes out is an approach that the President believes is the best way forward. But he remains interested in, if the Republicans would show some desire for or willingness for compromise, in a balanced package towards deficit reduction.
Q And you will deny then the suggestion this was made to rally progressives who very strongly oppose the chained CPI proposal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I guess, Wendell, what I would say is the offer is still on the table. What we’ve all seen is a profound unwillingness of Republicans to make the same kind of move, which is putting on the table their own -- a democratic condition to a balanced deficit reduction package. Remember, this is -- chained CPI was something Republicans identified as one of their top priorities. The President put it on the table as part of an offer towards the Speaker to try to find some common ground on reducing the deficit further.
I would note contextually two things. First of all, under this President, the deficit has come down faster than at any time since World War II. The deficit is meeting the target of being cut by half, and then some. The deficit as a share of GDP and within the 10-year window will be below 2 percent -- not 3 percent, as identified by Simpson-Bowles -- but 2 percent. So these are not insignificant accomplishments.
I would also note that when the President took office, he was handed the largest deficit in history at that time. Some might say that was a result in part of policies that Republicans supported, having been delivered the first surpluses in a long, long time eight years prior.
Q On a different subject --
MR. CARNEY: Shockingly.
Q Can I get clarification? You just said that Republicans said chained CPI was one of their top priorities. When did they say that?
MR. CARNEY: In our negotiations.
Q Oh, in your -- okay, so no public --
MR. CARNEY: I think that there’s ample evidence that they were very interested in having this generally. But there’s no question that this is -- this is not something -- I think as demonstrated by Wendell’s question, this was a give as part of a give-and-take.
Q Because I’ve never seen them propose it up on the Hill.
MR. CARNEY: That’s shocking, too, right?
Wendell, did you have a second one?
Q Yes, I did. It involves the FCC’s newsroom proposal -- something it calls a multimarket study of critical information needs, which involves interviewing people like us, our editors, our producers about how we choose what to put on the air, what’s important to us. Does the White House have a reaction to the FCC’s decision to study this? Are you in favor of it? Do you believe that the FCC should be interviewing people involved in this process?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re slightly behind the news. The FCC is an independent agency, A, so you’d have to talk to them for details, but I’ve seen these reports and I understand the FCC Chairman has taken steps to address the concerns that have been expressed, including the ones that you just laid out. But for details, I’d urge you to talk to the FCC about their decisions.
Q You don’t want to talk about the FCC’s --
MR. CARNEY: It’s an independent agency so we’re not going to weigh in on that, but I would note what the Chairman has said and the actions that he’s taken.
Q At least leading up to today, the message to Yanukovych from the Russians has basically been, do not compromise. Putin’s Prime Minister Medvedev even urged Ukraine to tough on the language and translation “so that people don’t wipe their feet on the authorities like a doormat.” I’m curious of your reaction to that.
MR. CARNEY: You’re going to have to repeat the question, Peter.
Q There had been a comment just recently, in the recent days, by Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister of Russia, who had effectively said to the Russians that this was important -- to Ukraine, excuse me, to Yanukovych, that this was important to, and the translation was, “so that people don’t wipe their feet on the authorities like a doormat.” I’m just curious what your --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t see that comment. Obviously, there have been a number of words and, more importantly, actions that we’ve disagreed with when it comes to the situation in Ukraine, not least the violence perpetrated upon peaceful protestors, and then the overall violence that we saw. So I don’t have a specific reaction to that.
I would point you to the fact that, at this stage anyway, we welcome the agreement signed today between Ukrainian President Yanukovych and opposition leaders -- an agreement that, if implemented, reflects a path forward that is in keeping with what we have advocated, which is early elections, a change to the constitution and a coalition government. So we will be very closely monitoring how this process moves forward. But it is certainly a significant step in the right direction compared to where we were 24 hours ago.
Q What is the U.S. national security interest? I understand the desire for democracy there and early elections and the right of constitutional reform. What is the national security interest for the U.S. in Ukraine?
MR. CARNEY: I’d say two things. One, supporting the Ukrainian people in the achievement of their aspirations which is a democratic government that reflects their will is important in and of itself. Ukraine is a large nation in Europe -- a nation of 46 million people, an important country, and it is certainly our view that Ukrainians ought to be able to choose their future. But that would hold true if they were a much smaller nation.
Q And former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was -- or is to be freed, if she hasn’t already, after two and a half years behind bars, a conviction that was largely viewed as political. White House’s thought on that?
MR. CARNEY: We have repeatedly called on the government of Ukraine to end its use of selective prosecutions, and that includes the prosecution of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko. And we are hopeful that she will be released from prison so she can receive the medical treatment that she needs.
Q Quickly -- I know the President is going to speak to Russia, to Vladimir Putin today, if he hasn’t already, and then yesterday I know he spoke to Angela Merkel. Can you give us a sense of what his engagement has been on this directly, either with the Russians or with others in the days leading up to this?
MR. CARNEY: He’s been deeply engaged and briefed regularly on developments there and has had, as we’ve read out, conversations with Chancellor Merkel, with Prime Minister Harper and President Peña Nieto when he was in Mexico. And obviously, as you know, the Vice President has been, as well as Secretary Kerry and others, having direct discussions with President
Yushchenko Yanukovych, and then others have been having conversations with opposition leaders.**
So the President has been very directly engaged. The President has tasked senior members of his team to be directly engaged. This is obviously a significant issue, and it is the primary subject of the conversation the President is having, or has had with President Putin.
Q And briefly -- because I think he’s probably affected the lives of a lot of people that sit in this room, and perhaps yours as well -- but today, Garrick Utley passed away, a longtime -- a Chicagoan -- the President is certainly familiar with him. I’m just curious if the President had heard of his passing or had any thoughts on his loss.
MR. CARNEY: I confess I haven’t had that conversation with the President. He’s had a lot on his plate today. But I know it’s a sad day when someone of Mr. Utley’s stature passes from my former profession, your current. And our hearts -- our condolences go out and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
Mark. Alexis and then Mark. Sorry.
Q So the President is spending time with governors, obviously, in the next couple days and today. Can you remind us in a concrete way what the President hopes to do to see more Democrats win in elections as governors?
MR. CARNEY: The President is going to be talking about policy with governors, and he believes that good policy is good politics. He’s talking about raising the minimum wage. He is commending governors who have taken action or expressed a desire to take action at the state level to raise the minimum age, because no American, no matter what state they live in, ought to work 40 hours a week and live in poverty. So that’s going to be the focus of his conversation.
And there’s a host of agenda items that he looks forward to discussing with Democratic governors but also with governors of both parties that he believes will help our recovery continue, will help expand opportunity, and reward hard work. That’s what he’s focused on.
He obviously has a role to play, and will play it very vigorously, when it comes to the midterm elections. But he believes we have a lot of business we can get done as a nation and that, as we’ve been pretty clear about, not everything that we can get done as a nation has to pass through Congress. It can happen in statehouses; it can happen in city councils; and it can happen through public-private partnerships and through simply convening people to come together to take action to move forward on an agenda. And that’s what the President has been doing all year, and that reflects the kind of conversations he’s going to be having with governors.
Q One other quick follow-up. David Plouffe and Mr. Messina and Bob Bauer came into the West Wing lobby midday for a meeting. Were they meeting with the President? Could you tell us what they were doing?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think they were, but -- obviously they come by every once in a while, but I don’t have any specifics on their meeting.
Who did I just promise. Mark.
Q Jay, what is the reason that today’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, like President Obama’s two previous meetings, took place in the Map Room and not in the Oval Office.
MR. CARNEY: The President, as we read out, met with His Holiness in the Dalai Lama’s capacity as a religious and cultural leader. And I think I made clear what our position is when asked about Tibet. And so he had the meeting in the Map Room. But, again, this reflects the kinds of meetings that this President has had with the Dalai Lama in the past and past Presidents have had with the Dalai Lama.
Q Is a Map Room meeting a degree lower than an Oval Office meeting?
MR. CARNEY: I think when you meet with the President, you’re always meeting with the President.
Carol. Carol and then I did say Dan.
Q Who initiated the call with President Putin?
MR. CARNEY: I actually don’t know the answer to that question. I suspect it was us, but we’ll get back to you.
Q And can you just give a sense of -- the President is doing an economic event in Minneapolis next week. What is the focus of that?
MR. CARNEY: Expanding opportunity.
Q Beyond expanding opportunity.
MR. CARNEY: Rewarding hard work.
Q And in what way?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll have more details on it. In fact, I have a week ahead and maybe -- well, you’re not going to get a lot of joy out of that. (Laughter.) But we will certainly have more detail for you in coming days.
Q Let me just ask you about the attack by Al-Shabaab, at least they claim responsibility, in Somalia -- 17 people dead, apparently 15 separate attackers -- and what this says about not only security in Somalia but the threat from Al-Shabaab more generally. I think we heard about a threat in Kampala in the last week or so -- what that says about the threat that that group still poses, what the U.S. is --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think as -- I don’t have a specific reaction to that report but I can tell you that we have been as a general matter focused on and concerned about Al-Shabaab, as well as other extremist groups affiliated with al Qaeda, and especially as it relates to our concerns that these groups might have designs on the United States or our allies. But I don’t have anything specific on this attack. I can take the question and see if we can get anything for you. I’m not sure if State has put anything out.
Scott. Well, you’re reading from your Blackberry. Is that breaking news?
Q It looks as if two cases of White House beer will be going north.
Q We lost 1-0.
MR. CARNEY: That is a shame.
Q And Harper said you can keep the beer for Keystone. Does the President have any thoughts? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: That process is housed over at the State Department. (Laughter.) It’s entirely unfermented. It sounds like -- I didn’t obviously see it. I did watch yesterday’s game, which was just exhilarating and heartbreaking. But what I caught of this game seemed just as stressful for fans to watch. But, congratulations to Canada. They certainly know their way around a hockey rink.
Q Week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: The week ahead, yes.
On Sunday evening, the President and First Lady will host the governors in town for the winter meeting for dinner at the White House.
On Monday, the President will meet with the National Governors Association.
On Tuesday, the President will hold an event on the economy at the White House. In the evening Tuesday, he will attend an Organizing For Action event in Washington, D.C.
On Wednesday, the President will travel to the Minneapolis, St. Paul area for an event on the economy.
On Thursday, the President will host an event, as I noted the other day, on his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.
And on Friday, the President will attend a DNC event here in Washington, D.C.
I hope you all have a splendid weekend. Thanks very much.
2:28 P.M. EST
January 12, 2015
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