Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/3/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:19 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here. I apologize for the delay; had some last-minute updates.
As you know, the President is hosting the U.S. Winter Olympic team today, and I think some members are going to be outside in about an hour, so we’ll try to move briskly. And in that spirit, I have no announcements.
Q Thanks, Jay. Can you tell me if the White House was aware prior to 2014 of this social media network that the AID engineered in Cuba?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say a couple of things about that. We’ve seen the story by the AP this morning. The program referred to by the Associated Press was a development program run by the United States Agency for International Development. And that program was completed in 2012.
As you know, USAID is a development agency, not an intelligence agency. Suggestions that this was a covert program are wrong. Congress funds democracy programming for Cuba to help empower Cubans to access more information and to strengthen civil society. These appropriations are public, unlike covert action. The money invested has been debated in Congress.
In addition, GAO reviewed this program in detail in 2013 and found that it was conducted in accordance with U.S. law and under appropriate oversight controls. In implementing programs in non-permissive environments, of course the government has taken steps to be discreet. That’s how you protect the practitioners and the public. This is not unique to Cuba.
So more details about the program are available at USAID. And I think that veterans of this briefing room know that when I say a program like this is not covert and then I talk about it, that’s how you know it’s not covert -- because I’m talking about it.
So on the question of the White House, our involvement would be the same that it would have been in similar development programs of this type. The President and his administration support efforts to help Cuban citizens communicate more easily with one another and with the outside world. So I’m not aware of individuals here who knew about it; this was part of a development assistance program.
Q Can you say if Secretary Clinton was aware of it?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department and Secretary Clinton.
Q And given the enormous lengths that AID went to to keep this quiet, how can you say it wasn’t covert?
MR. CARNEY: It was not a covert program. It was debated in Congress; it was reviewed by the GAO. Those kinds of things don’t happen to covert programs. It was a development assistance program about increasing the level of information that the Cuban people have and were able to discuss among themselves. And that’s part of an effort that we undertake not just in Cuba but elsewhere.
So again, when you have a program like that in a non-permissive environment, i.e. a place like Cuba, you’re discreet about how you implement it so that you protect the practitioners, but that does not make it covert.
Q Do you have any updates on Fort Hood? Has the President been briefed on it this morning? Any new information you can share?
MR. CARNEY: On Fort Hood -- well, let me review Fort Hood for you, including some new information.
First and foremost, the President and First Lady’s thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the killed and wounded individuals. We commend the military personnel, the first responders and the medical staff who provided -- who responded swiftly to the horrific shooting. The President directed his team to utilize every resource available to fully investigate the shooting. The Department of Defense, as you know, has the lead on the investigation with support from federal partners, including the FBI as well as state and local law enforcement personnel.
Last night, the President convened a conference call with Department of Defense and FBI leadership while aboard Air Force One. He received another update this morning during the presidential daily briefing. The President will continue to receive updates as new information becomes available and has directed that his team do everything it can to assist the families of the lost and wounded.
Q Thanks, Jay. Israel has called off the release of Palestinian prisoners meant to advance the peacemaking process in that region, and called for review of the talks which are sponsored by the U.S. Does that mean this initiative is dead? And what’s the lesson from that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ve seen the reports that you mention but I can’t independently confirm them. I think that was just prior to my coming out here. I can certainly tell you that the decision by the Israelis to delay the release of the fourth tranche of prisoners creates challenges. And there certainly is currently no agreement on the release of this tranche.
More broadly, I can tell you that the dialogue remains open, and there has been progress in narrowing some of the questions that have arisen as a result of the events of the last few days. Our negotiating team met with the Israelis and Palestinians together last night. Neither side has indicated that they want to walk away from the talks; they both indicated they want to find a way to move forward.
So despite the fact that there has been some progress, there is still a gap, and the Israelis and Palestinians must decide whether they will take the necessary steps to close that gap. These are decisions and steps that the United States cannot make; only the parties themselves can make them. The United States cannot impose an agreement on either side. I think the parties understand what the choices are, and the fact that neither the United States nor any other country can make those choices for them. So we will continue working with the parties to try to narrow the gaps and seek a just and lasting resolution to this issue.
And if I could say more broadly that we are doing that because it’s the right thing to do. It’s certainly not the easy thing to do. It’s certainly not a path you pursue because you know for sure it will lead to success. In fact, history suggests that getting to success on this particularly difficult issue is very hard. But it is the responsibility of the United States, the President and Secretary Kerry believe, to provide leadership in this instance to see if the U.S. can help the parties narrow the gaps and move forward towards a comprehensive peace.
Q I know Josh talked yesterday about the Supreme Court decision, but could you talk about the significance of that and whether there’s any silver lining in the sense that it may give more power to party chair people?
MR. CARNEY: That kind of discussion is not one I’m going to engage in. I think Josh reflected our views on it and I really don’t have anything to add. I wouldn’t, again, want to speculate about its impact beyond what Josh said yesterday.
Q And, briefly, if I could ask about tonight’s meeting with congressional leaders, is Ukraine a chief topic in that conversation? And what do you want to talk to them about?
MR. CARNEY: The President looks forward to the meeting this evening with the four leaders of Congress. He looks forward to briefing the members on his recent trip to Europe, where Ukraine and the challenges posed by Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty pose. So that will be the probably principal topic of the discussion. I’m sure he will also brief the leaders on his meeting with the Pope, which as you know was a major part of the trip. So those are the expected topics of the meeting.
Q How would the White House characterize I guess what progress came out of that European trip? Because if this is going to be the subject of the meeting tonight, so how would the administration characterize what came out of that trip? And also, what has the tone been of the recent conversations with Russia both at the White House level and the state level? I mean, is there any progress at all there ever? Because it kind of always seems to be one step forward, one step back.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say a few things. First, on the trip, the trip itself was very important because it allowed for the President to meet with leaders of our major European allies, as well as Japan, to discuss the situation in Ukraine, and to reach a consensus about our shared views and opposition to Russia’s actions, and to discuss measures that we can take individually and collectively to make it clear to Russia that the annexation of Crimea is illegal and that we will not participate in any discussion about Ukraine’s future without the Ukrainians.
We will also work with our partners, as our partners have made abundantly clear, to impose further costs on Russia should Russia take further action in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. As to the status of the circumstances there now, while we have seen reports and claims about drawing down of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, we have seen no evidence that confirms those reports as of yet. And I would point you to the comments by the Supreme Allied Commander, General Breedlove.
We, together with our partners, have been taking action to bolster and provide visible reassurance to our Central and [Eastern] European allies to make clear that NATO’s commitment to Article 5 is unwavering. And we are, as you know, in the aftermath of the President’s phone call from President Putin, continuing to engage in a dialogue with Russia over moving down the road of diplomatic resolution. Now, we have been clear what our proposal is and we have been continuing discussions with the Russians. But I can’t report any significant progress at this point. The elements of what has to happen, in our view, are quite clear: Russia needs to return its forces to pre-crisis positions and levels. Russia needs to engage in a direct dialogue with the Ukrainian government in concert with international partners. And we need to move forward in a mode that de-escalates attention there.
Q And that dialogue between Russia and Ukraine has not been happening in your view, yes or no?
MR. CARNEY: That's correct, yes.
Q Okay. Thanks.
MR. CARNEY: Mr. Shear.
Q On the torture report, it looks like Congress is going to vote today to send it to -- to release it, essentially, and sending it to the declassification process. What’s the President prepared to do to speed up that process so that it can be released to the public?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear. The President has for a long time been on the record that he wants to see that report declassified, and he urged Congress to move quickly to --
Q So now they’re going to move. So then the question is what is he going to do to make clear that the bureaucracy -- and is there a time period that he wants to put on it for release?
MR. CARNEY: He would expect that the actions that are necessary to declassify a document like that be conducted in all due haste, and I think he would make that clear to the agencies involved in that effort and the individuals involved in that effort.
Q Do you have any sense of what “all due haste” means? Is that a week or --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a deadline for you because the action you're premising the question on has yet to take place.
Q Jay, I don't know if you had a chance to see the comments by Robert Gibbs -- used to stand up there. (Laughter.) He said, “I don't think the employer mandate will go into effect. It’s a small part of the law. I think it will be one of the first things to go.” Just a couple questions on that. Do you agree with Mr. Gibbs that the employer mandate is something -- we've already seen in delayed twice -- is something that will ultimately never be put in place?
MR. CARNEY: I don't. As the final rules put out in February made clear, this will be phased in starting next year. This requirement ensures that larger employers either offer quality, affordable coverage to their employees or help offset the cost to taxpayers of these uncovered employees getting tax credits through the health insurance marketplace. This phase-in approach is similar to how the individual responsibility requirements are already structured. They start this year and then gradually increase to 2016, when they are in full effect.
I know, having spent time on the -- at the pundit’s table prior to my life here, you can make predictions all the time that turn out not to be true.
Q So let’s just be crystal clear. I think you were, but let me just clarify -- you're saying that the employer mandate which requires companies to provide health insurance for their employees will go into effect as scheduled. There will be no further delays.
MR. CARNEY: That's correct. The final rules were put out in February and this will be phased in starting next year in accordance with the final rules.
Q Are you open to any of the changes that have been proposed by Democrats in Congress to adjust the mandate at all? Or do you think this is the final word that we're --
MR. CARNEY: Well, you would have to ask me more specifically in terms of, which requirement you're talking about, which mandate you're talking about. Secondly, what we have seen is this administration act very comprehensively to make sure that the transition into the marketplaces that has been taking effect can be done as smoothly as possible, making adjustments as necessary to ensure that can happen.
What I think we saw just the other day is that despite the problems with the initial rollout of the website, despite some of the other challenges that arose in the rollout of the marketplaces, a huge number of Americans responded to the availability of affordable, quality health insurance by signing up. And contrary to all the predictions and the clear promises of failure, especially from Republicans, we not only met but exceeded the goal set by outside independent experts, which was 7 million signups by March 31st.
So the work continues. As you know, there’s a not insignificant population of Americans who had begun the process -- were either in line physically or via the website in an effort to sign up -- who did not complete that process by the deadline. And CMS is evaluating that population now and moving them through the system so that they can get the insurance that they began the process to sign up for. So we’re going to continue to implement the law.
Q Do you have a sense of how many more are in queue?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. And as of yet they’re working through it. And I think to explain why that would be the case, there could be people who went online, were having trouble completing the process, left a phone a number -- or an email, rather -- but also called and left information. So there’s work going on to make sure what exactly the population is, how many people there are, and making sure that each individual is able to get processed through the system.
Q And then one more from Robert Gibbs. He also was suggesting that there should be an additional layer of coverage cheaper than the plans already being offered. Is that something that is under consideration here? And I ask because he was -- day after day, while this law was being passed, Robert Gibbs was up there making the case for it, defending it. I mean, obviously he was here --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I mean, there are all sorts of possible improvements that you could put out on the table. And what the President has always said is that he would absolutely entertain specific measures that were designed to improve the law. I mean, I can’t, as a spokesman and not a health care policy expert, examine each proposal here from the podium. What I can tell you is that the President has made clear he’s open to considering proposals that are designed to improve the law. What we’ve seen from Republicans have been either all-out repeal efforts, or alterations -- basically repeal efforts in the guise of small changes or medium-sized changes, when the purpose, as they state themselves repeatedly, is to repeal the law so that those 7 million people -- the 3 million young adults who have insurance through their parents’ plans and the many millions more who have gotten insurance through Medicaid expansion -- are all out of luck, and the insurance companies are back in control.
Q Thank you, Jay. On Ukraine again, this morning, Deputy Russian Prime Minister Rogozin mocks the sanctions that were adopted by the U.S., Canada and the EU. What concrete evidence has the White House that these sanctions really have an impact on Russia, especially since nothing has happened in Crimea?
MR. CARNEY: I think there have been reports that bear out the fact that there has been an impact on the Russian economy as well as on Russian individuals, as well as on Bank Rossiya, which was the institution that was identified in one of the sanctions put forward by the United States.
We’ve also made clear that should Russia engage in further provocations, take more actions that violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, that there would be more consequences, more costs. And those would include potentially sanctions aimed at sectors of the Russian economy.
The President made clear when he signed the executive order authorizing those actions that implementing such sanctions are not our preferred course of action because implementation of those sanctions would result in some negative impact on the global economy, on the U.S. economy, on the economies of our allies and partners. But as you saw last week when the President was in the Netherlands and Belgium, there is consensus and unanimity among our partners that that action would need to be taken should Russia engage in further provocations.
I think that Russian officials can say what they like. The fact is individuals targeted are and will feel consequences from these sanctions. And certainly if more consequential sanctions are levied -- or leveled, rather, because of actions by the Russian government, those consequences will be felt very keenly.
Q Do we understand that fundamentally the White House expects the Russian authorities to engage in a dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities, and that would be the main fundamental, a step to -- for the White House to accept the process to go further?
MR. CARNEY: There are a series of conditions that we’ve made clear are necessary for Russia to adopt in order for progress to be made on the diplomatic side of this, and one is pulling back forces to pre-crisis positions and levels; two, yes, is engaging in a direct dialogue with the Ukrainian government. No decisions can be made and will certainly -- and no decisions will enjoy the support of the United States or the international community about Ukraine’s future without the Ukrainian government participating, the Ukrainian people being represented at the table. That kind of attitude, the suggestion that those kinds of decisions can be made absent representation by Ukraine, harkens back not just to the 20th century but the 19th century in its thinking. The U.S. won’t participate in that, and neither will our allies and partners on the G7 and more broadly in Europe.
So I think Russia understands that. And there is an open dialogue taking place between the United States and Russia, and I think we’ve made clear what the path forward here is. There’s an opportunity that Russia has to embrace that path forward which also allows for Russian participation in conversations about disputes that it may have with Russia, concerns that -- I mean with Ukraine -- concerns that it may have about ethnic Russians in Ukraine. But they need to play by the rules of the road. They need to engage with the Ukrainian government, and do so in a manner that accepts and recognizes that Ukraine is a sovereign state; it enjoys the rights of all sovereign states under the United Nations Charters; and it should not have its territory violated against the law and in violation of specific agreements that the Russian government is party to.
Q You said that if further provocation happens we’d see sanctions would be implemented, and you’ve also said that the sanctions that have already been in place aren’t going to be lifted until Crimea is annexed. What I’m wondering is, you’ve always talked about the Crimea sanctions as giving you flexibility, giving the President flexibility. Do you anticipate a ratcheting-up of those sanctions, the sanctions that have already been put on Russia because of Crimea, or are we pretty much finished with those? In other words, the price has been paid and now we’re just talking about sanctions that would be put in place if Russia does something more?
MR. CARNEY: I think you mean that the executive order, the first one --
MR. CARNEY: -- well, both of them give the President and the United States flexibility. The actions that we’ve taken in terms of sanctions have to do with Russia’s violation already of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Now, those authorities exist and I’m not going to preclude any further action as a consequence of what Russia has already done. The executive orders provide additional authorities to the President, to the administration, to impose further sanctions, as you know. And the President made clear in his statements that he would avail himself of that authority and those options should Russia further violate Ukraine’s sovereignty. So, I mean, the answer is I’m not going to rule out further actions in response to what Russia has already done. I’m going to make clear, as the President did, that the broader authorities created under the second executive order in particular are available should Russia take more action against Ukraine.
Q Right, I get that. But you’re saying it’s also possible that they could pay a higher price for what they’ve already done.
MR. CARNEY: I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.
Yes, Roger, and then Ed.
Q Thanks. A related question. Do you have any comment or response -- Russia has imposed a 26 percent increase in the cost of natural gas to Ukraine. I guess it was done yesterday. That doesn’t seize land or anything, but is that the kind of provocation that would warrant some sort of response either from the U.S. or from the allies?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we believe, Roger, that markets should determine energy prices and that countries should not use supply and pricing terms as tools of coercion to interfere in Ukraine or anywhere else. The U.S. is taking immediate steps, as you know, to assist Ukraine, including the provision of emergency finance and technical assistance in the areas of energy security, energy efficiency and energy sector reform.
And we’re also working with our allies on Ukraine’s western borders to encourage them to prepare to reverse natural gas flows in some of its pipelines so that Ukraine can access additional gas supplies if needed. Yesterday, Secretary Kerry and DOE Deputy Secretary Poneman were in Brussels for the U.S.-EU Energy Council meeting. And together with our partners in Europe, we made clear that energy security not just for Ukraine, but for all of Europe is a priority and will require a significant amount of transatlantic cooperation and leadership.
So this is something we monitor very closely. We’ve made clear, as our partners have, that that kind of action taken coercively against Ukraine is something we oppose, and we’re working with our European partners to assist Ukraine in its efforts to deal with it.
Q On Russia, NASA has said that it’s suspending most contact with the Russian Space Agency. Can you talk about the impact of a move like that, which is something we’ve cooperated with them on for some time? And there have been reports about how some U.S. spy satellites are Russian-made. There are probably other contracts out there that are impacted. Are those under review as well? After we see an action from NASA, is there a broader look?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me tell you about NASA -- that given Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the U.S. government is taking a number of actions to include curtailing official government-to-government contacts and meetings with the Russian Federation on a case-by-case basis consistent with U.S. national interests.
We've talked about this previously, and as we've already said, we have suspended bilateral discussions with Russia on trade and investment; we have suspended other bilateral meetings on a case-by-case basis and put on hold U.S.-Russia military-to-military engagement, including exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences. We also will not meet with sanctioned individuals. We have informed the Russian government of those meetings that have been suspended, as you know.
And in terms of the specific case-by-case decisions that are made in response to this broader directive, I would have to refer you to each agency. In the case of NASA, there are some actions being taken, but obviously with the space station, in particular, that program and the engagement with Russia on that program continues.
Q I want to go back to Fort Hood, and I realize we can't -- we don't know all the facts, so we can't prejudge anything and we can't speculate. But to take a step back, it's been well documented and talked about by this administration, many in the media, stress on the military, stress on veterans, alarming amount of suicides among returning veterans. Do you think this administration, the previous administration, Congress, both parties can look the American people in the eye and say enough has been done to figure this out, to get to the bottom of it? How do you address that issue, which is a very tough one to deal with?
MR. CARNEY: I think the issue itself is absolutely worthy of the questions you’ve asked. I want to separate those questions from the particular case which is being investigated, because I don't want to prejudge what happened or why it happened at Fort Hood. But I can tell you that the President, Secretary Shinseki and the Department of Veterans Affairs care deeply for every veteran we are privileged to serve and that is certainly true of Secretary Hagel and the uniformed military leadership at the Pentagon when it comes to active duty personnel. This administration has been committed to upholding our sacred trust with America’s veterans, its wounded warriors and their families.
To go to your question about is there more to be done -- absolutely, there is work that remains to be done. And the President is taking key steps to ensure that our veterans receive the best health care, get the benefits they have earned, and have access to the education and training they need to reenter the workforce. He has provided historic levels of support to veterans and their families in his budget requests. And I can list for you the initiatives that this administration has undertaken in the last five and a half years that go right at the issue of what we need to do as a country to honor the service of our veterans by making sure that they have our full support.
And you’ve seen that through the VA; you’ve seen that in actions that the First Lady and Dr. Biden have led through Joining Forces. And it reflects the fact that after a decade of war, we need to be very mindful in this country that even as those wars end, what we owe our veterans does not end. And the President is personally very mindful of this and has made clear to his administration and his team here at the White House that this is a high-priority issue.
Q Jay, I want to go back to the Cuban Twitter account. You said that the program wasn’t covert, and yet one document obtained by the Associated Press said that the program should be kept under the radar, to keep it a secret. Another memo written in 2010 by one of the project’s creators said, “There will be absolutely no mention of the United States government involvement.” So if it wasn’t covert, do you acknowledge that it wasn’t exactly above board?
MR. CARNEY: Well, “above board” is a loaded term. This was a program that had been invested in and debated by and debated in Congress. The GAO has reviewed this program in detail less than two years ago and found that it was conducted in accordance with U.S. law and under appropriate oversight controls.
When it goes to the question of being very discreet, I don't know if you’ve been to Cuba -- I have, a long time ago as a reporter -- and these are the kinds of environments where a program like this and its association with the U.S. government can create problems for practitioners and members of the public. So appropriate discretion is engaged in for that reason, but not because it's covert, not because it's an intelligence program, because it is neither covert, nor an intelligence program.
And, again, you guys know, because you ask me about covert operations and covert programs on occasion and you know what my standard response is when I'm asked, which is to say I can't discuss those things. I'm happy to discuss this.
Q Given that it was roping in Cubans, many unwittingly, is there something unethical about it?
MR. CARNEY: Whoa, whoa, wait. This is a program that provided a platform for Cuban citizens to share information amongst themselves. That's not being roped into --
Q What is not collecting their personal data?
MR. CARNEY: For details of how the program works I would refer you to USAID and the State Department.
Q Was it not collecting their personal data?
MR. CARNEY: Again, for details about how it works I would point you to the agency that developed it and implemented it. But I think you ought to be careful about how you describe it. Again, this was not an intelligence program. This was an effort, one of a variety of efforts that the United States engages in as part of its development mission, to promote the flow of free information, to promote engagement by citizens of countries especially in societies that are non-permissive, because we believe that is part of the essential right of every individual on Earth.
And that's something that this administration, past administrations have been quite proud of and acknowledge fully. In the implementation of a program like this, because of the non-permissive nature of the environment in a country like Cuba, things are handled in a discreet manner, again, to protect practitioners and the public.
Q Does this not harm the reputation of USAID around the world?
MR. CARNEY: You mean the publication by the AP of it? Or the --
Q The revelations about this program.
MR. CARNEY: I think that, again, this was not a covert program. It’s a program that has ended. It’s a program that was designed to provide a platform to citizens of that country to communicate among themselves and to have access to information that in societies like that sometimes they don’t have access to, or often they don’t have access to.
Q And one more on the shooting. In the wake of the Navy Yard shootings, Secretary of Defense Hagel ordered a series of reviews of the security measures at military installations. Does there need to be another review? Will there be in the wake of this latest incident?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re less than 24 hours since this tragic incident, and there is an active investigation underway being led by the Department of Defense, assisted by the FBI as well as state and local law enforcement personnel.
So I would urge you to wait until a little more time has passed as we’re dealing with the immediate circumstances of this incident before we can make judgments about that.
Carol. I’m sorry, Bill. Carol, then Bill.
Q Does the President plan to travel to Fort Hood?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any travel updates for you today.
Q Is it possible that he would do that while he’s in Texas next week?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have -- I wouldn’t speculate about future travel at this point.
Q Can you say how he first learned about the shooting and give us a sense of what his reaction was?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. The President was informed of the shooting during the event by his Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, during the event that he was participating in at the time in Chicago, and was in contact with his Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco about details of the event and its aftermath as we learned of them -- I’m sorry, during the event. It was ongoing and the President was informed of it by Rob Nabors.
His traveling National Security Council staffer, Liz Sherwood-Randall, also kept him well informed. Prior to speaking to the press last evening -- in which I think, Carol, he very clearly conveyed how he felt about the event and what his reaction was to it -- he was briefed by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Winnefeld. Last night on the way home, as I mentioned earlier, aboard Air Force One, he was briefed by phone by members of his national security team from the White House, DOD and the FBI. And then this morning he was briefed again during his PDB.
But I think that, again, if you look at what the President said as this -- right after this event had happened, I think you can assess how he felt about it. It is heartbreaking when an incident like this happens. And we’re obviously in the very early stages of an investigation, so we can’t reach conclusions about the hows and whys. But there are families now who have lost loved ones and whose loved ones have been injured, and the President’s thoughts and prayers, the First Lady’s thoughts and prayers, and the thoughts and prayers of all of us here go out to those families.
Q The discussion over the last couple of days of Jonathan Pollard and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, you suggested that that is something that the Israelis always bring up. But there are also suggestions that the U.S. offered this as a way to get the negotiations back on track. Is that the case?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, what I can affirm to you is that the issue of Jonathan Pollard and his disposition is something that has been frequently raised by Israeli officials. And all I can tell you is that the President has not made a decision to release Mr. Pollard, and that he is continuing to serve his sentence having been convicted of espionage.
Q Was his release something that the United States suggested in order to move forward --
MR. CARNEY: Again, it would be hard for us to suggest something that is raised with some frequency by the Israelis.
Q No, it wouldn’t. All you have to do is raise it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, it has been raised frequently -- and I don’t think anybody who covers these issues would dispute that -- by the Israelis. So having said that, I’m not going to get into the conversations and discussions and negotiations that Secretary Kerry has had with the parties.
Q Do you -- not you, but has the administration asked Samsung Corporation to stop tweeting that selfie?
MR. CARNEY: Without getting into counsel’s discussions, I can tell you that as a rule the White House objects to attempts to use the President’s likeness for commercial purposes. And we certainly object in this case.
Q Why wouldn’t you say that yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: Look, it does stand to reason we have objected in the past. We object now. But I’m not going to get into the manner of objection, except for the manner I just delivered it.
Q Jay, are you saying the White House counsel is in touch with Samsung?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I just said, Mark, that I’m not going to get into the counsel’s discussions. But I will tell you that as a rule --
Q It is covert? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: It’s discreet. It’s discreet. (Laughter.) As a rule, the White House objects to attempts to use the President’s likeness for commercial purposes.
Q And when you speak of releasing Pollard, you mean commutation of sentence, right? You don’t mean a pardon.
MR. CARNEY: I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for his status. And I’m not going to get into the details of conversations that Secretary Kerry has had with the parties.
Q Jay, you said earlier that the President would do whatever he can to see that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about enhanced interrogation gets out to the public, if you will. How unequivocal though is that? He’s the President. Is he willing to tell the agencies to stop resisting the release of this kind of information, other than going obviously over the report line by line?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, the President I think stood before you and made very clear -- as I and others had already done -- that he wants this work by Congress to be completed. He wants the report to be submitted for declassification, for that request to be made. And he will ensure that the administration acts responsibly in the obviously sometimes complicated work of declassifying these kinds of documents, but with dispatch.
So, I mean, I can’t -- again, there’s a process in place here and you’re jumping ahead three steps. We need to see Congress finish its work and make a request for declassification. The President has made clear, as have I and others, that he wants to see that done, and he wants the report declassified so that the public can see it.
Q Let me jump back one step, then. Is he interested in seeing this report himself?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, sure. The answer is yes.
Q Has he not seen it?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think that we have seen the report. There was an early -- I would refer you to the processes up there, but we have not seen the final report, certainly.
Tommy, then Lesley.
Q Thank you, Jay. It’s kind of a broad question, but here we have another mass shooting -- what would you say to people who are just demoralized at the prospect that anything will ever be done at the federal level to fight gun violence? After each one of these mass shootings, after all the effort that went into even passing background checks that 80, 90 percent support from the American people and nothing got done, here we are again. What do you say to people who are just demoralized by that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Tommy, as I said earlier in answers to questions about this, I want to separate out this specific incident and the circumstances around it because we don’t know the facts yet -- certainly don’t know all the facts yet. So I don’t want to have comments I make about the broader subject be suggestive of anything specific about that incident.
What I can say is that the President made abundantly clear his disappointment and frustration with Congress and its failure to listen to the overwhelming majority of the American people when they made clear they wanted to see the background check system made more effective and expanded. That was a proposition that in no way violated our Second Amendment rights, rights which the President supports.
And the President also made clear at the time that he would continue executing on the broader plan that the Vice President and he developed to reduce gun violence in America, which included, in addition to pushing that specific piece of legislation, a number -- more than 20 -- executive actions that the administration could take, and there has been action on all of them as well as some additional ones.
So I think that there is certainly reason to be frustrated, as the President was and is, by the failure of Congress to act on something so common sense. But that doesn’t mean you give up on efforts that remain possible, and that’s why the President has taken the steps he’s taken and will continue to look for ways to implement common-sense solutions to this very challenging problem.
Q Jay, you said the USAID-Cuba program was run discreetly, not covertly, but now that it’s sort of out there publicly, are [there] other concerns about how this will affect efforts to get Alan Gross released? And can you talk about whether or not he was involved in any --
MR. CARNEY: Let me make clear: Alan Gross was in no way affiliated with this program. Mr. Gross has been imprisoned by Cuban authorities for more than four years for doing nothing more than helping Cuban citizens gain access to the Internet. We continue to work to secure his release. Mr. Gross is a 64-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing aid to underserved communities in more than 50 countries. We reiterate our call on the Cuban government to release Alan Gross. His detention remains an impediment to more constructive relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
So we’re continuing our efforts.
Q Is this complicated, though, by this being in the headlines?
MR. CARNEY: It certainly should not. He was in no way affiliated with this program. This program, again, was debated in Congress, reviewed by the GAO, not covert, not an intelligence program, and then Alan Gross was not even affiliated with it. He should be released, and the failure of the Cuban government to release him thus far has -- continues to be an impediment towards improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Q A follow on the detention -- I’m just wondering, amongst the President’s support on that, what are his thoughts about how --
MR. CARNEY: On which, I’m sorry?
Q Sorry, the CIA report released -- declassification. As part of his thinking on that, does he have a sense that by releasing and declassifying parts of that report could have a positive impact on international relations with countries that have been particularly critical of the policies of Gitmo detention, CIA interrogation?
MR. CARNEY: Jessica, I haven’t had that conversation, at least from that angle, with him. He believes that the American people should know as much as possible about these practices, which, it’s very important to note, he ended immediately upon taking office.
So he’s more focused on the importance of the American people having access to this report once it’s been appropriately declassified. But I think that the fact that he ended these programs, the fact that he has fought and continues to fight to close the Gitmo facility, I think around the world his administration’s policies and his efforts are pretty well-understood in this regard. So the focus here is on making sure the American people are able to see the report in a declassified fashion.
Q Jay, Josh said yesterday in the gaggle that you guys were disappointed by the McCutcheon decision. Will the President solicit donations from people who have already given $123,200 in this cycle?
MR. CARNEY: I’d refer you for questions like that to the DNC. The disappointment that Josh expressed yesterday still stands. I just don’t have an answer to the question.
Q Will the President encourage other Democrats to donate or to --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you on that.
Q -- solicit those donations?
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, I would refer you to the DNC.
Q After the Priorities USA super PAC, after the President turned that decision around two years ago, the justification given in the 2012 cycle was that -- this wasn’t a quote, but to not do so would be bringing a knife to a gun fight. Does the President feel like by not soliciting contributions he would be --
MR. CARNEY: Jared, I appreciate all the questions, and there are people who are in a position to answer them. And certainly, we’re talking about a ruling that came down yesterday. And I think that our folks are digesting it, so I just don’t have any new information along -- or new positions along those lines to raise with you today.
Q But the disappointment that was expressed will not be expressed in a promise not to solicit those funds?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know how many times I can tell you, I just don’t have anything new for you on it. It’s been a very short time since the decision came down. We’ve expressed our disappointment with the decision, but I don’t have anything beyond that for you.
Q Thanks, Jay. The Mississippi legislature approved this week a bill that critics say would enable discrimination or allow people who refuse services to LGBT people on religious grounds in that state. It’s along the lines of the controversial Arizona bill that was vetoed by Jan Brewer. Does the President want to see a veto of this legislation?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen a lot of detail on that situation, so I would not be able to comment directly on it. We certainly thought that the Governor of Arizona did the right thing by vetoing that bill. But I don’t know the particulars of this particular action.
Q And development on that contemplated executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination, Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andy Tobias said in an email to LGBT donors that he agrees that it should be signed and that its absence is frustrating. If those are the words coming from the Democratic National Committee Treasurer at a time when he’s trying to raise money to keep the President’s party in power in the midterm elections, is there a problem?
MR. CARNEY: I think that there are a lot of strongly held views on these matters. The President believes very strongly in employment non-discrimination. That’s why he has urged Congress to act on the ENDA legislation. We’ve seen some progress on that; it needs to be completed. Those who oppose it are standing in the way of history and will look foolish in the future as future generations look back at that stance and recognize it for what it is. I just don’t have any updates for you on the EO that you mention.
Q Let’s say that ENDA does become law, that Congress approves it and the President signs it -- would that change the President’s thinking on signing an executive order?
MR. CARNEY: I think the employment non-discrimination legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would broadly apply. And that’s one of the reasons why we support it, because it’s a broad solution to the problem and it ought to be passed by Congress. You’re sort of scrunching your face as it the law wouldn’t apply to some citizens. It would apply.
Q I’m just curious, because there’s an argument --
MR. CARNEY: I think if the law passed -- now, I’m not a lawyer and I’m not -- I haven’t read every sentence of the law, but I think if the law passed that broadly banned this kind of employment discrimination, it would make redundant an executive order.
Q But there are some instances where that would not be the case, because the executive order --
MR. CARNEY: Well, that could be hypothetically, but I think we’d like to see the legislation passed and that would be a good thing.
Fred. I think we’re going to -- this has got to be the last one, because I want to make sure you all get the Olympians.
Q The situation with Iran and the U.N. ambassador, the appointments there -- I want to ask the White House’s view on that and also if it’s going to affect the nuclear negotiations at all.
MR. CARNEY: Well, on the P5-plus-1 negotiations, they are focused on a very specific task, which is to see if we can resolve diplomatically the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program. That is in the interest of the United States, the interest of the region and our allies around the world. And we will continue to pursue that.
Any resolution of that diplomatically would have to be one that provides transparency and validation to the necessary commitment by Iran to forsake nuclear weapons and the development of nuclear weapons. So as has been the case when we have talked about other issues with which we have great disagreements with Iran -- like Syria and its sponsorship of terrorist organizations -- we do not let up on Iran in terms of the pressure we place on it, on those matters.
On the issue -- I think I’ve addressed the question of the individual and the ambassador -- the appointment of an ambassador to the United Nations -- I don’t have anything to add on that. But on the issue of P5-plus-1, we continue to pursue that with our partners. And, no, that does not change.
Q -- totally separate --
MR. CARNEY: I think I made that clear. Thanks very much.
Q Can I get a quick one on the U.S. ambassador to India?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you.
1:11 P.M. EDT
November 21, 2014
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The President Awards the National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation
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November 19, 2014