Daily Briefing by the Press Secretary, 2/27/14
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:25 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. Before I take your questions let me just mention that, as you know, this afternoon, the President will unveil his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, taking action in partnership with foundations, businesses and others to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential.
Building on his year of action, this new initiative is another way the President will use his pen and his phone, involving both the private and public sectors, to expand opportunity for Americans.
The President will be joined at the event by a wide group of stakeholders who share our interest in helping put these boys and young men of color on a path to success, including foundation and business leaders, faith leaders, state and local officials. Boys and young men of color, including several from the Becoming A Man program in Chicago, who the President has previously met with both in Chicago and hosted here at the White House, will also be attending today’s event. Before the event the President will meet with a group of the foundation and business leaders supportive of or participating in the initiative.
I'd also like to announce that on Thursday, April 10th, the President and First Lady will travel to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, to deliver remarks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. We will release more details when they become available.
I will now take your questions. Jim.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to ask you about the latest developments in Ukraine. We have Russia scrambling jets near the border. We have the Russians apparently harboring Yanukovych, and some gunmen taking over government offices in Crimea. I wonder what the President’s reaction to that is and if you're taking any steps in response to it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me start broadly by saying that the United States welcomes the Ukrainian parliament’s decision to establish a new government that can unite the Ukrainian people and restore order and stability to the country. As the process moves forward, the United States, again, calls on all parties in Ukraine and in the region to support reconciliation and the country’s return to political and economic health. And we will work with the international community in building an economic assistance package based upon Ukraine’s achievements in crafting a unity government. We welcome the government’s commitment to pursue economic reforms and the IMF’s announcement that it will send a team to Ukraine in the coming days.
We expect that the government will do its utmost to protect the security and human rights of all its citizens, including the rights of minorities, and to recommit to honor the state’s international obligations in this interim period. In this regard, we welcome today’s statement from the government that the rights of all Ukrainians will be respected.
We strongly support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We expect other nations to do the same. And so we are closely watching Russia’s military exercises along the Ukrainian border, which they announced yesterday. We expect Russia to be transparent about these activities and to avoid provocative actions. We urge them not to take any steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to a miscalculation during a very delicate time. It is important for all nations with an interest in a peaceful future for Ukraine to work together to support a Ukrainian government that fulfills the aspirations of its people.
Q Have there been any discussions between the White House and the Kremlin to get assurances about what that activity is at the border?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have a specific conversation to read out. I know that the Secretary of State has spoken with the Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Lavrov, about the situation in Ukraine. I don't have a more detailed readout of that conversation. That is the most recent conversation I'm aware of at a high level with the Russian government.
Q And anything more on how specific you can be on what an economic package from the U.S. could be to supplement the IMF assistance?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you a couple of things. First, the U.S., working with partners around the world, stands ready to support and provide support for Ukraine as it takes the necessary reforms to get back to economic stability. I would note the broad support expressed at the G20 finance ministers meeting over the weekend for an international assistance program package centered on the IMF. Ukraine needs both multilateral and bilateral support for a reform program, and the United States believes the IMF would provide the best foundation for economic advice and financing.
We welcome news that the IMF will send a team to Ukraine in the coming days, as I mentioned, and the U.S., together with Europe and others, stands ready to supplement an IMF program to cushion the impact of reforms on low-income Ukrainians.
When it comes to U.S. assistance, we are continuing to consider a range of options, Jim, including loan guarantees to support Ukraine economically. The next step is for the new government to resume talks with the IMF. And as the government engages the IMF, we will also begin taking steps in coordination with multilateral and bilateral partners as well as with the new government that could -- steps that could complement an IMF package. But the first step here is for the new government to resume talks with the IMF.
Q One more question -- I wanted to ask you about Iranian sanctions. The President, earlier this month, said that the U.S. would come down like a ton of bricks on countries that circumvent those. And there’s concern up on the Hill that some Chinese data -- Chinese government data that shows that their imports of Iranian crude has jumped 29 percent since November and that Indian imports have grown as well. Is there concern about those transactions?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you, Jim, is that the way that this is measured, as I understand it, is over a six-month period in terms of maintaining levels of imports and that that data -- those levels can fluctuate on any given month. We obviously are watching this closely, in keeping with the expectation that we have that all nations will abide by their commitments under the sanctions regime. But I would, on the matter of one month’s export levels, caution that, as I understand it, the way this is viewed is over a longer period of time.
Q So far in what the administration has observed with Russia’s military actions along the border, is Russia doing enough to be transparent about its military actions? Can they already be characterized as provocative?
MR. CARNEY: I would say that we expect Russia to be transparent about these activities they announced yesterday and to avoid provocative actions. That is an expectation we have and we are conveying because it is in Russia's interest and, of course, in the interest of the Ukrainian people that there not be provocations; that Ukraine’s territorial integrity be maintained and its sovereignty be maintained.
It is also the case, as I’ve said and others have said, that the aspirations the Ukrainian people have so clearly expressed to further integrate with Europe are not contradictory with maintaining historic cultural ties and economic ties to Russia. It is also our view, as I said earlier, that it is very important that the Ukrainian government maintain a position in which it clearly promotes and defends the rights of all Ukrainian citizens, including minorities.
So that’s the approach we’re taking. We have made abundantly clear, I think Ambassador Rice and others have, that we expect Russia to be transparent in the way that it’s handling these issues, and that it is not in anyone’s interest to see further destabilization and certainly not in anyone’s interest to see a return to violence of any kind.
Q But what’s your assessment thus far? Is Russia being transparent enough in terms of --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t even know how to evaluate that. We’re saying that Russia needs to be transparent. We obviously are cognizant of the announcement yesterday and we are monitoring developments there. The views that I expressed have been and are being expressed to Russian officials as well as others around the region. And we again are focused on supporting the Ukrainian people; this is about their aspirations. And our approach to this is built around the idea that Ukraine needs to maintain its independence, it needs to maintain its territorial integrity and sovereignty, and it needs to have a government that defends and respects the rights of all its citizens.
Q And about the visit announced this morning with Palestinian President Abbas -- what does the President want to accomplish during that meeting and what kind of message will he be sharing with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday?
MR. CARNEY: The U.S. has been making a concerted effort, as you know, to assist Israel and the Palestinians as they make progress in their negotiations. We have been working with the parties on a framework that would be the basis for negotiations moving forward. The parties are talking about the core issues, including borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, mutual recognition, an end of conflict and an end of claims. Those are the core issues that need to be resolved for a peace agreement to be reached.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have already made courageous, difficult decisions, and that is a testament to their determination to try and resolve this issue.
As you know, the President launched this initiative during his trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank last March. Secretary Kerry and his team have been doing an excellent job and the President has made clear that he stands ready to work with the leaders to help them reach an agreement. The Prime Minister’s visit as well as President Abbas’s visit on March 17th will be important opportunities for the President to take stock of where we are and to work through the details with them. So this is a step in the process and the President looks forward to both meetings.
Q Briefly, on bitcoin, I’m wondering how closely is the White House monitoring what’s happening with the virtual currency and its largest exchange, and does the White House have a position on it, one way or the other?
MR. CARNEY: For the administration’s position on it, I would refer you to the Treasury Department.
Q I want to get back to Russia, but just curious if you had anything to say about the Attorney General being hospitalized. Has the President been made aware?
MR. CARNEY: The President has been made aware and I think the Department of Justice has put out a statement that as a precaution when he felt faint earlier today, he was taken to Washington MedStar Hospital Center to undergo further evaluation. And he is resting comfortably and in good condition. He is alert and conversing with his doctors. The President was notified and, of course, wishes him a speedy recovery.
Q And getting back to Russia, there are reports out of Russia that President Yanukovych still claims to be the President of Ukraine. Does the White House view him as such, or has that ship sailed?
MR. CARNEY: As I have said earlier, and others, Mr. Yanukovych abdicated his responsibilities when he packed up and left the capital of his country, and he fled Kyiv and has only been seen once on videotape since Saturday. Those actions undermine his legitimacy.
And Ukraine’s lawmakers in the parliament are fulfilling their obligation to the Ukrainian people by forming a government that can tackle the pressing economic and political issues facing the country until new presidential elections can be held. Those elections are now expected on May 25th, in keeping with a call for early elections.
So we support the efforts of the parliament to get the security situation under control and to ensure that the institutions of government are working. We note that recent parliamentary votes have been won by overwhelming majorities that include members of Yanukovych’s former party, and that includes the votes establishing the government.
We believe that working within the boundaries of Ukraine’s constitution and through its governmental institution is the most promising path towards the de-escalation of violence, an inclusive multiparty government, and early elections.
So the facts on the ground demonstrate that Mr. Yanukovych created a void by, shortly after signing an agreement, in an orderly fashion, packing up his stuff and disappearing. And it’s hard to claim you’re leading a country when you abdicate your responsibilities and disappear. So the parliament, in keeping with its responsibilities to the people, has been acting responsibly, voting on a number of issues and passing bills with large majorities, including votes in favor from members of Mr. Yanukovych’s party.
Q Because in the run-up to his departure, the Vice President had been in contact with President Yanukovych on a number of occasions -- something like nine times -- and so he was certainly viewed by this administration as the leader of that country.
MR. CARNEY: He was elected President. He has abdicated his responsibilities by, shortly after signing an agreement to bring an end to the violence and take the actions that so many in the world had called on him to take, which was to establish a unity government, to end the violence and move towards early elections, he packed up his belongings and disappeared. So the country has to be governed. The parliament, acting in keeping with its responsibility, has taken steps to ensure that the country is governed.
Q And I know you’ve been asked about this before, but I’d like to try it again. It’s a political question about the Vice President and Secretary Clinton. They both --
MR. CARNEY: We have elections even before 2016.
Q Well, they both appear to be weighing whether to run for President in 2016, and the Vice President made that abundantly clear in that article in Politico, and Secretary Clinton has been out making speeches. Does the President think it would be better for the Democratic Party to have one leader heading into 2016, for the party to be united behind one leader?
MR. CARNEY: That’s such a far-off question in terms of its need to be answered that I’m not even going to entertain it. What I can say is that the President is focused on an agenda that’s designed to create more opportunity for the American people, to reward hard work and responsibility. That is reflected in what he did yesterday in Minnesota, what he's doing today here at the White House, and what he's doing every day. He has in the Vice President an extremely effective partner in all that they do together and in the pursuit of an agenda that they share great faith in.
So the President is focused on that work; the Vice President is focused on that work. It’s 2014, still early, so there is no reason to be focused on anything else.
Q On Yanukovych, the White House is urging Russia not to take any additional provocative actions. Would the White House see Russia granting safe harbor to Yanukovych as a provocative act?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, we don't have confirmed information about his whereabouts. I'm not going to speculate on that. What I can tell you is that wherever he is he has clearly left Kyiv, left his office, and has abdicated his responsibilities and undermined his legitimacy. The parliament, on the other hand, has taken responsible action to deal with that void and to deal with the many pressing issues that Ukraine faces.
Our concern, as I expressed earlier, relates to actions outsiders might take that would not advance the goals that we all share, which is a Ukraine that maintains its territorial integrity, that maintains its sovereignty, and that is allowed to move forward in a way that protects the rights of all of its citizens. That's what we're supporting. That's what we're going to support in our efforts with the international community when it comes to economic assistance, and that's what we're supporting at a diplomatic level.
Q I want to ask you about -- Speaker Boehner this morning told my colleague, Jeff Zeleny, that in all the conversations they had on Tuesday about a wide variety of issues, immigration was the issue where they most saw eye-to-eye. Speaker Boehner said a few weeks ago, though, that the Republican caucus doesn’t trust the President to enforce whatever law Congresses pass. But this morning he said they had a very healthy conversation on the topic. Can you shed some more light on that? And did the President in some way convey more to Speaker Boehner that he is to be trusted on this issues?
MR. CARNEY: I can certainly confirm that immigration was one of the topics they discussed. I can certainly confirm that there is broad agreement that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. We've seen that in the steps that Speaker Boehner and Republican leaders have taken this year, and I think that stands in contrast to the positions and steps they took previously when the operating approach to immigration reform was self-deportation.
The Senate has acted. The Senate has acted in a bipartisan way with Republican and Democratic support in passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that reflects, not word for word what the President would have written if he were to draw up the bill, but reflects all of the principles that he laid out a long time ago, now, that needed to be met in a comprehensive immigration reform bill. He hopes and expects that the House will act.
And it is true that he spoke with the Speaker about this. It's certainly true that the Speaker has led an effort in the House to produce among House Republicans a set of principles or standards on immigration reform, and we are certainly hopeful that this effort will move forward -- because it's going to happen and it needs to happen. It's the right thing for our country; it's the right thing for our economy. And a lot of people with far more insight into the Republican Party than I have currently say that it's the right thing for the Republican Party.
So with all those forces working in its favor, we believe that immigration reform needs to happen and should happen. The question that needs to be answered by Republican leaders is, when? Because, certainly, the sooner the better.
Q Did the President get any further insight into that in his conversation with Speaker Boehner?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a further readout on the conversation except to confirm that that was one of the topics they discussed.
Q Jay, would you say that conversation jump-started things from where they were? Because it was the perception for a couple of weeks that things had sort of fallen off --
MR. CARNEY: I think it was a good and constructive conversation. I think that the imperative remains today as it did several weeks ago and has for some time now, which is this is something that has the support of Democrats and Republicans across the country; it has the support of an amazingly diverse coalition of stakeholders and interest groups, including big business and law enforcement and faith communities; and it has the backing of solid, responsible economic analysis that demonstrates that passing comprehensive immigration reform would be a boon to the economy, would be good for the middle class, would be good for border security, and would be good for our future development because of the innovation that it would help spur.
So it's all good if done well and in accordance with the principles reflected in the Senate bill. So we --
Q And nothing the President heard from the Speaker discouraged him about the prospects of this getting done this year?
MR. CARNEY: The President is fully aware that this has always been -- or for a long time, anyway -- has been a hard issue for the Republican Party. So I'm not going to characterize his sense about the odds that House Republicans are going to move tomorrow or next week. What I think he conveyed is exactly what he has conveyed publicly, which is that there is an absolute need to do it, there is an overwhelming case behind the need to do it, and that Republicans should act as soon as possible to get it done for the economy, for the middle class.
Q On the communications side of Ukraine, is it the Russians’ responsibility to be transparent publicly, or should the President not be on the phone more frequently with Vladimir Putin to make sure there’s no misunderstandings, nothing is misinterpreted either in word or deed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know --
Q I know.
MR. CARNEY: -- the President did speak with President Putin in a long phone call just several days ago and --
Q Last week. A lot has happened since then.
MR. CARNEY: -- Secretary Kerry has been in contact with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, and we are obviously in constant consultation at a variety of levels with the Russian government and others as it relates to the unfolding events in Ukraine. I think you can be assured that this is an issue that has attention at the highest level, and will as each day passes.
Q As a practical matter, for the EU and the United States to put together a financial aid package, can you put the contours of that together and sort of suggest what’s available but need to wait for a government to be formed after these elections in May? Or can you begin to have a serious conversation about delivering money for a government that doesn’t actually exist?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the fact is the parliament has taken action to create a unity government. And we welcome the government’s commitment to pursue economic reforms and the IMF’s announcement that it will send a team to Ukraine in the coming days. So I don't think the IMF, our allies and partners in Europe, or the United States is waiting -- are waiting, rather, to take action to provide assistance to Ukraine as it adopts the reforms that are necessary for economic stability and growth.
So that's my read on it. These are very challenging issues. The economic situation in Ukraine is challenging and the need for action is fairly urgent. And that's why we welcome the commitment the government has made and the announcement the IMF has made.
Q Last one, just to follow up on Roberta. Isn’t it fair to say that with the meeting with Netanyahu Monday, two weeks later, President Abbas, the goal for the month is for the President to get a verbal commitment to the framework itself and extending this process at least for another year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is very focused, as his whole team is, on making progress on this issue and working with the parties on a framework. Achieving a framework means that the parties would have agreed to principles that would guide the final status negotiations. And we believe that the framework will be a significant breakthrough as it would represent a common picture on the outlines of the final status agreement.
I don't have a timetable to attach to that, but this is a process that was launched by the President, that Secretary Kerry has been very engaged in, as you know, and both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu have taken courageous, difficult steps in an effort to demonstrate their determination to try to resolve these issues.
So the framework is an important step. We'll see how the coming weeks unfold in terms of progress on it.
Q Can I follow that?
MR. CARNEY: Let me go to the back a little bit.
Q Is that a no? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: No, you can definitely when I -- Patty, let me call on you.
Q -- Al Jazeera continue to be unjustly imprisoned in Egypt. Is the administration still calling for their immediate release?
MR. CARNEY: The answer is, yes. We've expressed concerns about the detainment and trial of Al Jazeera staff and journalists as well as others, and we have expressed those concerns directly to the government of Egypt and we have strongly urged the government to drop these charges and release those journalists who have been detained.
But we remain deeply concerned about the ongoing lack of freedom of expression and press freedoms in Egypt. The government’s targeting of journalists and others on questionable claims is wrong and it demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms. All journalists, regardless of affiliation, must not be targets of violence, intimidation or politicized legal action. They must be permitted to freely do their jobs in Egypt.
So we are closely watching the trial of Al Jazeera staff and journalists in Egypt. We understand that the defendants pleaded not guilty and that the trial was adjourned until March 5th. We strongly urge the government to allow these and all journalists to continue to do their jobs, and it is impossible to see how they can do that, how any journalist can do their job if they are faced with questionable charges and are detained and on trial.
Now you can follow.
Q You said there’s no framework for the agreement -- there’s no timetable, pardon me, for the agreement to this framework. But didn’t Secretary Kerry set a timetable himself saying he wants it done by the end of April?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re working -- I mean, I would certainly refer you to the Secretary of State, but we are focused on this work and believe that achieving a framework would be an important step towards setting the parameters for final status negotiations. So I’m simply noting that this work is ongoing, but it is certainly deep and serious.
Q House and Senate members are being briefed on the status of the talks on Iran’s nuclear program today. Can you give us an unclassified version?
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, what’s the question specifically?
Q They’re being briefed on the status of the talks on Iran’s nuclear program today. Can you give us an unclassified assessment?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have an update beyond what we’ve been talking about, which is we are obviously within a time period here in which the P5-plus-1 will test the premise that Iran is now interested in coming to terms with the international community in a way that demonstrates it is abiding by its international obligations and that it is forsaking a nuclear weapon in a transparent and verifiable manner.
Q Are they being briefed because you believe there’s been progress? Are they being briefed to head off those elements of Congress that want to tighten sanctions on Iran?
MR. CARNEY: No, they’re being briefed because it’s this administration’s commitment to brief Congress regularly on matters like this, and this is an ongoing process and it’s wholly appropriate for the administration to brief Congress on it.
Q Given Secretary Kerry, who has, in fact, said that he’d like to deal with the framework of the Israeli-Palestinian issue by the end of April, would it have been wiser to resolve Iran’s nuclear program -- the questions about Iran’s nuclear program before putting a timetable on the Israeli-Palestinian issue?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think these are both important issues and neither should wait. The fact is, as we’ve said repeatedly, after the international consensus that was forged once the President took office and began pursuing his approach to Iran, the most punitive regime of sanctions that has ever existed was imposed upon Iran, and that has resulted in Iran changing its approach and agreeing to negotiations, and agreeing to the Joint Plan of Action, which commits Iran in a transparent and verifiable way to taking steps to halt its program in some areas and to roll it back in others -- all while we continue work with the P5-plus-1 to see whether or not Iran can take the steps necessary to prove to the world that it is not and will not pursue a nuclear weapon. That’s important work. So is the work that’s being done on the framework and on the Middle East peace process. And both are progressing.
Q Finally, will the President address AIPAC next week?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an update on the President’s schedule. When we have an announcement to make in terms of representation at AIPAC we’ll make it.
Q Isn’t it a little close for you to hold off on making that announcement?
MR. CARNEY: When we have an announcement, we’ll make it.
Q Jay, I have two topics. One on “My Brother’s Keeper.” Is this initiative that the President is announcing today going to meld with some of the old efforts that this administration was doing to include the fact that Eric Holder was in charge of the federal government initiative that saw grants going out to organizations like the Urban League and Labor gave them grants and Justice gave people grants to help with at-risk kids. So is there going to be a melding of the old and this new program? Or is it just going to be the new program and that all the other stuff that was going on will fade away?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, there’s a lot of effort that’s been focused on creating opportunity for all Americans and, in this case, for boys and young men of color, and that has been reflected in the work that you mentioned and in many other initiatives that have been engaged in over the course of President Obama’s time in office.
What “My Brother’s Keeper” represents is that in this year of action and in keeping with his commitment to use his pen and phone in creative ways to advance an agenda that opens opportunity to all Americans, he is bringing together businesses and foundations around an effort to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential. So this is, again, reflective of the President’s commitment to use every tool in his toolbox to advance an agenda that expands opportunity. And that includes actions like this that don’t require legislation through Congress.
Q So you’re saying it’s going to be both issues -- both items will be working separately but still working to help --
MR. CARNEY: Well, when you say both items I’m not sure what specific items you’re talking about. The efforts underway by the administration to expand opportunity for Americans across the country continue. This is obviously a new initiative that is focused on the President using his capacity to bring stakeholders together and make commitments towards expanding that opportunity specifically in this case for young boys and men of color.
Q Okay. And the second topic, you said earlier to a CNN question about the Vice President, you said it was basically a hypothetical. It’s not hypothetical, particularly when the President, earlier this week, said to the National Governors Association there were some governors that were sizing up the curtains. So he sees that there are some people here in this town, around the country that are looking at possibly going into the Oval Office. With that said --
MR. CARNEY: Okay. I’m not aware of anybody -- that anybody has announced.
Q With that said, there is a possibility, a strong possibility of Hillary Clinton and the Vice President going head to head. If that were the case, does that present a tough scenario for President Obama to throw his support behind? And it’s not a hypothetical issue.
MR. CARNEY: By definition it’s a -- you said “if this happens, what will the President’s reaction be” -- if.
Q But they are eyeing it, they’re eyeing it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m sure a lot of people are making decisions about the course of action they’ll take in a couple of years. What I can tell you is the President is very appreciative of the service that Secretary Clinton gave to this administration and to the President’s foreign policy team. And she did excellent work and they have a very good relationship. And the President continues to be enormously grateful for the excellent partner he has in Vice President Biden, and has had since the beginning of this administration. And that work, as I was noting earlier, continues to this day.
I mean, if you look at what help President Obama has asked Vice President Biden to be engaged in as we were talking about earlier, the situation in Ukraine, the effort the Vice President is leading when it comes to skills training, the effort that the Vice President has been involved in to promote enrollment of the Affordable Care Act -- that's just reflective of the fact that Vice President Biden is engaged in all aspects of the President’s agenda.
So this is not -- I promise you this is -- questions about an election that is very far in the future are not weighing on the President’s mind right now.
Q Jay, I want to try again on the question that Josh got yesterday --
MR. CARNEY: You want to ask about Clinton and Biden? No? Okay.
Q This is about the postwar plan in Afghanistan. General Dempsey had said that he needs a plan to be in place by June, or he needs to know by June what the expectations are. Is that a fair timeline? Is that what the White House is looking toward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I obviously refer to and defer to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. What is clear, as we said after the President spoke with President Karzai, is that President Karzai has indicated that he is not willing to sign the bilateral security agreement. We are open to signing that agreement later in the year with a new government in place, but the longer that takes, the more constrained a post-2014 mission would be in both size and ambition. And that relates to, in the President’s view, the issues associated with making plans for drawing down our forces and maintaining a troop presence in 2014, if there is a BSA signed.
So I don’t have a timetable to name, except to say that there’s a sliding scale, and that the longer we go into the year, the more difficult it is to plan for a post-2014 troop presence; and that while we are open to signing a BSA later in the year, the later it goes, the fact is the mission will have to be smaller in scale and ambition.
The bottom line is that there will be no troops in Afghanistan post-2014 if there is not a signed bilateral security agreement.
Q And just to be clear, you have given up on trying to convince Karzai? In other words, you’ve moved beyond that phase.
MR. CARNEY: I think President Karzai has indicated that he’s not willing, or not likely to sign a BSA. But obviously, if that were to happen, we would welcome it. We’ve been calling for it for some time now, and it’s only reflective of the fact that we negotiated the bilateral security agreement with the current Afghan government and it was endorsed strongly by the loya jirga.
Q I want to ask you about My Brother’s Keeper, as well. I was just talking to a 19-year-old who came from a very broken home. He’s turned his life around, now in college, thanks in part to Covenant House, a community center here, which helped him make that transition. And he says he welcomes the President’s announcement, it’s a really important first step, but he says it doesn’t go nearly far enough because he says the problem is so broad and so far-reaching. What do you say to that, that this is really just a first step and doesn’t necessarily get to the root of the problem?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, first of all, you ought to wait and hear what the President says, and hear more details about the initiative that he’ll be announcing. And I think that what you’ll also note is that the President is calling together stakeholders here, including foundations and businesses, to join the effort in a partnership so that every young man in this country, of color, and every boy of color in this country who’s willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential.
And if the question is, is this a big project and will it take a broad commitment from not just the President and Washington but, very importantly, from outside organizations and businesses, the answer is, of course. But expanding opportunity for all Americans is the essence of the commitment the President has made in the agenda he’s working on for the remainder of his presidency. So this is important work, and he’s gratified that today, as you’ll see, there are so many organizations that want to join in the effort.
Q And, Jay, can you characterize the impact that Trayvon Martin had on President Obama wanting to actually launch this initiative?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. One, the President throughout his time in office has championed efforts consistently to support boys and young men of color, not just in his time here as President, but throughout his career. So it predates -- those efforts predate this initiative, they predate certainly the death of Trayvon Martin.
And while I don’t want to get ahead of what the President is going to say, there’s no question that, as he said, Trayvon’s passing was a tragedy. And several months ago, moved by the Martin family’s tragedy, the President spoke about the need to invest in our young boys and let them know that their country believes in them and is willing to invest in them, and also about the need to promote trust in communities at the local level.
So the initiative that he’s announcing today builds on that commitment and is reflective of what he talked about in the wake of Trayvon’s tragic death.
Q Thanks, Jay. Just to piggyback on Kristen and April’s questions, is this the first -- or it seems to be the first major -- excuse me, first initiative that the President has taken that’s exclusive to young minorities. Is that the case? I know he’s taken other steps to help young people in general, help them find jobs, summer jobs, work training, all that. But this seems to be the first one that’s targeted exclusively --
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just say that, as I mentioned earlier, he’s championed efforts to support boys and young men of color throughout his career. And that dates back to his time in the Illinois senate, where he helped to pass legislation on racial profiling, to his work in the U.S. Senate, when he introduced the Bayh-Obama Fatherhood bill and co-sponsored the Second Chance Act, and to his work in the White House on fatherhood, on mentoring, on Summer Jobs+. All of that is reflective of the President’s commitment to and work on addressing these issues.
So today’s initiative is a continuation of that work; it’s not something wholly new in that respect. And I would also say that the work that President Obama has done to expand opportunity for all Americans has had significant benefits for this group of Americans -- young boys and men and color.
So you would have to evaluate on your own how distinct this is. But it reflects the commitment that I talked about in answer to Kristen’s question and, more broadly, reflects the President’s commitment to the general principle that we can expand opportunity for all. And for young men and boys of color in this country, the President believes there is a way through an initiative like this to help kids and young men who want to help themselves and are willing to work hard, and are in difficult circumstances to achieve their potential. And he is very grateful for the support that you’ll see demonstrated today behind that idea.
Q And the reason I asked is I know that some in the African American community, particularly during his first term -- and I know there was a recession going on and everything -- but were critical of him that he didn’t do enough to help minorities who were disproportionally affected in some ways -- excuse me, were disproportionately affected by the recession.
MR. CARNEY: I would simply repeat what I just said about the work the President has done specifically on these issues, and then more broadly on expanding opportunity, and when you talk about the recession, taking action to prevent that recession from becoming a depression.
And obviously, the recovery from that Great Recession has benefitted those communities that were disproportionately hurt by the recession, as well as all Americans, by stabilizing our economy and returning it to growth and job creation. But there’s a lot more work to do, as you hear the President say all the time. This is a piece of that work -- the announcement he has today.
Q Two things, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: You probably want to ask about HRC maybe? (Laughter.) Is that --
Q Thank you for the brand promotion there. (Laughter.) I appreciate it. I hope you picked up your copy.
MR. CARNEY: I expected one on my desk. (Laughter.)
Q Can I give you a gift?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll talk after. (Laughter.)
Q You can sell him a gift.
Q I could sell you a gift. Two things. First, on Dave Camp’s tax proposal, I’m curious whether the President is committed to getting tax reform done before he leaves office. This is something he’s talked about in the past, not as much lately. There’s been a tepid reaction to the Camp proposal. Some folks say it can’t be done this year. What’s the President’s level of commitment to getting something done before he’s gone?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President has demonstrated his commitment to corporate tax reform quite clearly, and continues to speak about it and hopes that Congress would take him up on that grand bargain for jobs that he’s put on the table -- which is eliminating loopholes, broadening the base when it comes to corporate taxes, and using the revenue generated by the effort to invest heavily in our infrastructure. He talked about that yesterday. And that’s a very important proposition because it would increase competitiveness, on the one hand, and provide enormous economic benefit through the investments we need to make in our infrastructure. So I sort of take issue with the idea that he hasn’t been talking about this, because he has.
Secondly, I would say that he’s long advocated reforming our tax code to make it more simple and fair, and is willing to work with both parties to get that done. And even though we’re likely to have some fundamental differences with his approach, it is a positive step, in the President’s view, that Chairman Camp has put forward his proposal. As you know, the President has put forward a proposal for pro-growth business tax reform, as I just mentioned, that lowers rates for businesses to make them more competitive, and broadens the base using the one-time revenue generated through that process to invest in our infrastructure.
The President has fought to ensure our tax code is more fair by closing unfair tax loopholes, keeping rates low for 98 percent of American families, and ensuring that the wealthiest pay their fair share.
It appears that Chairman Camp is embracing the President’s proposal to use revenue through corporate tax reform to invest in infrastructure. And Chairman Camp’s proposal would close the carried interest loophole, the corporate jet loophole, and many of the other unfair loopholes that benefit big corporations and the wealthiest but don’t help the economy. The President has been pushing to eliminate several of these loopholes for years, and we agree that they need to be addressed to make the system more fair.
Now, we are concerned that the proposal fails to raise revenue to contribute to balanced deficit reduction. As you know, the President’s approach to further deficit reduction, to build on the significant deficit reduction he has overseen, involves a balanced approach. And, in fact, Chairman Camp’s proposal appears to add to the long-term deficit rather than reduce it.
Importantly, the President believes we should be looking for ways to reward hard work and expand opportunity for American workers, and that’s why he fought to extend and expand the EITC. And it’s simply not the right time, in his view, to raise taxes on working people.
Now, having said that, we look forward to working with members of both parties on this issue moving forward, and we certainly view Chairman’s Camp proposal as a positive step.
Q And to get to the question you were anticipating, and build on Jim -- (laughter) -- the President in 2008 and 2012 told the American public, and I think believed earnestly that Joe Biden was the best person to be President of the United States other than Barack Obama. What would change about that in 2016?
MR. CARNEY: Again, that’s a hypothetical about who may or may not run for 2016. It is certainly the President’s view that Joe Biden would be a good President and could be President. That’s why he chose him as Vice President. That’s why responsible candidates for President choose as a running mate someone they believe can fill that office. And the President has great faith in Vice President Biden, in his abilities, and in, most importantly, the partnership they have working for an agenda that expands opportunity and rewards hard work, and keeps our nation safe.
But questions about 2016 are just not on his mind, and since my job is to channel him from this podium they’re not on my mind either.
Q Jay, two things, quickly. One, back on immigration. While Congress is not doing anything on immigration, there’s a growing cry from groups like NALEO, the AFL-CIO for the President to sign an executive order ending the deportations that are now taking place at a rate of 1,000 a day. These are people who would qualify for citizenship under the President’s plan, but they’re now being deported by DHS. Is there any plan for the President to sign such an executive order?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, the immigration system is broken, and that’s why it requires comprehensive reform. We have 11 million people living in the shadows and too many employers who game the system by hiring undocumented workers. Neither is good for the country, for families, or the economy. We need a permanent solution that provides people an earned path to citizenship. And as the President said in his State of the Union address, he is committed to achieving a lasting solution and working with the broad-based coalition that support reform.
As the President has made clear, going to your question, the job of the executive branch is to carry out the laws that are passed by Congress. The administration has taken a series of steps to focus our resources and make immigration enforcement more strategic, including focusing on criminals and the use of deferred action for young immigrants known as DREAMers. The only permanent solution is a legislative one that would provide a broad-based path to earned citizenship, and that can only be achieved by Congress. It can’t be achieved by the President.
So I think the President has answered this question many times. We’re focused, as I was talking about earlier, on the real potential here because of the broad, bipartisan support across the country, because of the broad coalition that supports comprehensive immigration reform on getting that permanent solution done.
Q Right, but while you’re waiting for the permanent solution, does it make sense to deport people who could qualify for citizenship -- and would under your own plan -- at a rate of 1,000 a day?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, what I can tell you is that the executive branch, as the President has made clear, has as its job carrying out the laws that are passed by Congress. And it is simply not accurate to suggest that there is a way around Congress to find a solution here to the broader problem. This is why we need comprehensive immigration reform. It’s why it needs to be comprehensive. And we’ve seen substantial progress towards getting that done, and we ought to go the final yard here and see it turned into law.
Q There’s a growing public debate in this country and the FDA is soon going to rule on e-cigarettes. So my question is are e-cigarettes allowed on the White House campus? And has the President ever tried one? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: As you know, the President gave up smoking.
Q Well, this is not an answer.
MR. CARNEY: Well, he has not, to my knowledge. I’ve never seen one on campus, but I just don’t know the answer to the question.
Q There’s no rule against them?
MR. CARNEY: Again, not that I’m aware of, but I certainly haven’t seen anyone pull one out.
Q Thanks. Next Tuesday, the President’s budget is coming out. Can you tell us any more about what might be in it? And also, is he going to be traveling or giving speeches? Or how is going to publicize that budget?
MR. CARNEY: No, and stay tuned.
Q Jay, just real quick --
MR. CARNEY: What -- you got something on your BlackBerry?
Q No, no, no, it’s not a BlackBerry, it’s an iPhone. (Laughter.)
Q Burn right there. (Laughter.)
Q The Lavrov-Kerry call, was that a new call, or is that the one from several days ago that you were referencing at the top?
MR. CARNEY: I know that they’ve been communicating regularly. I’m not sure the last -- do we know, Josh?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, it’s a recent one.
MR. CARNEY: Recent one. So we’ll get -- State probably has the timing on it.
Q Two questions -- one foreign, one domestic. On the BSA in Afghanistan, at the end of the year the administration insisted that it be signed by the end of the year. In January, the administration insisted that it be signed within weeks, not months. This week, we learned that it could be signed in months -- after April, as a matter of fact. Did the situation change on the ground or was the administration bluffing when it --
MR. CARNEY: No, look, what we said is that it should be signed by the end of the year because that was the commitment made by the Afghan government as well as the U.S. government, as they set forth to negotiate and finish negotiating in good faith the bilateral security agreement. What we said all along is that it needed to be signed promptly, because not signing it promptly would affect our ability and the ability of our NATO allies to plan for a post-2014 troop presence. It would also necessitate that the Pentagon and our NATO allies plan for no troop presence beyond 2014. And what we said then was true.
We are now planning for, as a contingency, the zero option. And that’s necessitated by the fact that despite the fact that his government negotiated the bilateral security agreement, despite the fact that it’s been endorsed by representatives of the Afghan people, President Karzai has indicated he is unlikely to sign it.
So what we said earlier this week and what the President told President Karzai is that should a future government be willing to sign it, we would be open to that and open to a post-2014 troop presence. But because of the timeline here, because of the challenges that planning for a force like that and a transition like that represent, the later it goes, by necessity, the smaller in scale and ambition that mission would be. So that’s in keeping with what we said all along.
It is still our view that it would have been better to sign it by the end of the year; it would have been better to sign it last month. But recognizing what President Karzai has indicated, we took the step that we took earlier this week to make clear that we would be open to moving forward with a signed BSA should it be signed later in the year, understanding the impact that would have on a future mission.
Q Okay -- domestic. You clearly loathe to talk about any potential rivalry between Secretary Clinton and the Vice President. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: You really are demonstrating for the massive audience that watches this briefing how the charge against the Washington press corps is true, which is that you guys care mostly about elections.
Q But the ironic thing is -- I mean, sooner or later it’s going to subsume everything. And clearly you loathe --
MR. CARNEY: Later. (Laughter.)
Q Yeah, okay, later. (Laughter.) So has anybody spoken to the Vice President about perhaps refraining from talking about his presidential prospects?
MR. CARNEY: You know Vice President Biden. I know Vice President Biden. When he is asked a question, he answers it. That’s what he does. And I would point you to what he said. What I know -- because we work with him, we see the work that he does -- he’s focused on -- and if you look at his schedule, he can prove it to you -- he’s focused on the work he’s doing with the President on behalf of this administration to expand opportunity for the American people today and this year. He is not focused on, nor is the President, speculation about what might happen in a couple of years.
Q But he’s talking to a Democratic state chairman today.
MR. CARNEY: He’s a Democrat. The President is talking to Democrats, too.
Q Who might run for President.
MR. CARNEY: Come on, Mark. The Vice President has been out there working hard on behalf of the President’s agenda, and I think any examination of his schedule reflects that.
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